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592: How to Speak with Effortless Confidence with Caroline Goyder

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Caroline Goyder shares exercises to help you feel more comfortable and confident with your voice.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The mindset shift that turns insecurity into confidence
  2. An easy way to make your voice more dynamic
  3. Quick ways to boost your confidence before a meeting

About Caroline

Caroline Goyder’s global reputation as a speaker and voice coach is built on her warm, engaging, relaxed and highly practical style, and her expertise honed by her work with actors, teachers, broadcasters and the corporate sector. She worked at the Central School of Speech and Drama as a voice coach for over 10 years before launching her own company. She is regularly sought after by the media as an expert in her field and her work has featured on television and in numerous national and international newspaper articles. Her extremely successful Ted Talk has over 7.5 million views. Caroline has written three books, her most recent Find Your Voice was released in January 2020.

Caroline was named by Red magazine as one of Britain’s top coaches.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Caroline Goyder Interview Transcript

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

Caroline Goyder
My pleasure, Pete. Looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to getting into it as well. And I understand you’ve been in my shoes many times interviewing over 40 A-list actors. Any noteworthy stories that come to mind from that?

Caroline Goyder
Ooh, gosh. That book I wrote a few years back, and it was fascinating. And the thing that was so interesting was just how nervous all of them got about auditions and new gigs and new jobs. It was just a revelation that people like Helen Mirren get shaky hands when they have to make a speech, because it made me feel, “Well, if that’s okay for them, then it’s okay for me, too.” It released me to be nervous in lots of ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s funny. That’s exactly how I feel as you share that, it’s like, “Huh, okay then. It’s okay. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. That’s how all of us, even the greats, are feeling.” So, that is handy. Thank you. Well, could you share then, so you’ve done a lot of work and research and hands-on experience in this space. Could you maybe tell us what’s maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made about confidence and having it and finding it, and not having it?

Caroline Goyder
So, when I started out, I definitely thought that confidence was something kind of out there that some people had. And when I was training as an actor, I would look at people and you’d see that he had it and she had it, and I knew that I didn’t. But 20 years on, I know when I see those people that they’re just really present, they’re just really in their bodies, they’re just able to center themselves when they have to. And I know that everybody can learn that skill, and that’s been the big revelation for me, that confidence is not a birthright. It’s a set of habits. And I wish I’d known that at 23, 21, when I started work. Even at 30 I wish I’d known that.

Pete Mockaitis
Confidence, ooh, that is good, not a birthright, it’s a set of habits. Okay. And then maybe for people who think that they’re doing it, they’re fine when it comes to speaking or being confident and having gravitas or voice. Could you just really lay it out for us in terms of what’s at stake there in terms of when you’ve got those habits sort of well-developed and are rocking and rolling and cruising and firing on those cylinders versus when you’re kind of stumbling and you haven’t found your voice? Why does it matter for the average professional?

Caroline Goyder
Gosh. Well, I’ve known those two zones. I’ve known the zone of not feeling confident really well as a person, and I know that when I didn’t feel confident in myself, I wasted a lot of energy worrying what people thought about me. I would worry that I was speaking too fast. I was worried that my voice was too thin. I would worry that I didn’t have enough presence. And that takes your attention away from other people. You stop listening. And, of course, what makes people effective in their jobs is that they are present and listening and able to tune in and be empathetic to others. Pretty much in any job that you do, that’s the success factor. And when you’re worried about yourself, you don’t have bandwidth to pay attention to other people.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Ooh, there’s a lot there. you’re saying that your focus, instead of being on, “Oh, my gosh, what’s everybody thinking. How am I doing?” you should be redirecting it toward serving and being present. How does that work inside your head?

So, let’s say you have the stage. Can you get really clear in terms of, “Let’s turn away from these sorts of thoughts running in our brain, that voice, and shift toward these other kinds of better thoughts and focus areas”?

Caroline Goyder
So, that’s really interesting, and I think what I would say to that is it’s an actor’s training, and I learned a lot from actors even though this is the theater of life we’re talking about. An actor’s training would say, “Actually, the thoughts are for rehearsal, the moment when you step out on stage…” and your stage could be a meeting or it could be a presentation, “…almost let go of your thoughts and get into a flow state where you’re really tuned into your body, your breath, what you can see in the room, someone’s tone of voice, so it becomes a very sensory experience.” And I think that’s what performers are taught. There’s a moment where you prepare, and then when you get into the stage, you just get present and you pay attention. And so, it becomes…it goes beyond thinking, and it becomes about flowing into the space. It’s almost like diving into something.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, it’s not about thoughts at all but rather sort of experience. it sounds like you’re saying, ideally, there wouldn’t be much of an internal monologue, like, “Okay, now I’m about to say this. Now I should walk over here. Now I need to be really angry or powerful or pause.” But rather your attention is pointed towards, “Oh, that person seems interesting.”

Caroline Goyder
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Or, “That person is looking away. And, ooh, I’m feeling there’s excitement here,” as opposed to internal conversation.

Caroline Goyder
Yes. And, of course, there are moments where you might need to tweak it and someone might not get what you’ve just said about Q3 or your budget for next year or whatever it is. And you might have to talk to yourself to tweak it. But when things are going well, just be in it. There’s a lovely Greek word which is Kairos, and it means it’s the place in the armor where you can pierce it, and it’s a bit of a kind of battle-heavy metaphor, in a way, but it’s the idea that it’s being able to spot the moment. And whether you’re pitching a big idea at work, or trying to influence a new client, or whether you’ve got to get the boss on your side, your ability to see that moment is everything.

Pete Mockaitis
So, now I’m imagining, in the context of pitching, I was just talking to someone about how I might kind of automate the process of getting headsets to my guests. I’m glad our audio is working out. Thank you. And then he said something like, “Oh, yeah, we have a program where we send headsets. We call that our ‘Agent In A Box’ program where we do this, this, this.” And then I think I was very explicit, it’s like, “Oh, I love that. So, you’ve done this thing before in which you send individuals all the gear they need with some explanatory stuff, so that’s just handled forever, and I don’t have to think about it anymore, or keep making purchases on Amazon one at a time.”

And so, in a way, I guess you don’t need to be too observant there, because I said, “Oh, I love that.” But I guess I’m imagining, if I’m reading it like that, you’re saying we can observe and witness those sorts of moments of openness or interest or intrigue from the people we’re communicating with, and we should seize that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. And we’re basically nervous systems meeting each other. And the people who have the most success at work are ninjas at reading other people’s nervous systems. When they get excited about a new product that’s going to help them with their podcast, or when they hold their breath because they think they haven’t got enough budget, or when they lean in because they’re curious. Your ability to notice moment by moment what’s happening in someone else’s nervous system is what makes you good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there we have it. How do we do that?

Caroline Goyder
The first rule is get present to yourself because until you are present to the shifts in your own nervous system, “What’s my diaphragm doing? How am I breathing? Oh, my heart rate is going up,” you’re not going to be able to notice it in someone else. So, get to know your own instrument, get to know, become self-aware, tune into your own emotions, and then you’re going to be able to tune in to someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in a daily life kind of way, I’m just sort of doing my thing, is there a particular process you recommend that we do that to check in? Because I think it’s quite possible to go hours or days at a time and not actually really do that at all, to say, “How do I really feel about this? Or what’s really going on here?” So, how do you recommend we stop and make that happen?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I’ve been the person who couldn’t do this right. So, when I left Oxford where I studied English, and I went to drama school. And when I got to drama school, here I was, this girl who had spent a lot of time reading Shakespeare, I mean a lot, and I turn up in drama school and they go, “You’re in your head,” and I think, “What on earth are they talking about?” And what they meant is that I was trying to process everything through my brain, through the internal dialogue.

And the learning for me, which was quite a hard one, I have to say, is that in order for me to be good on stage, in order for me to have presence, I have to learn more about my body and not my brain. And I agree with you that most people at work, we’re all in Zoom jail at the moment, we’ll get back to the real office jail eventually, we sit a lot, we tense our shoulders, we lean forward into our laptops, we lose our breathing, our hips get tight, we have too much coffee, we don’t drink enough water, and then we kind of get into meetings, and we wonder why it’s not working.

And the simple thing that you can do to become more self-aware is to just notice your body. Notice that it’s not just carrying you around. Notice how you’re breathing. Notice how you’re standing. Adjust yourself. Go for a walk. Maybe do some yoga. Maybe go for a run. But just embody your whole self not just your brain. And I wish I’d learnt that in my first week at drama school rather than struggling through the five years.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, notice your body, and it sounds like we’re getting real precise, I guess, like in terms of, I could say, “My right elbow itches right now.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
“And my neck is tensed.” So, I’m just sort of internally noticing and articulating these things. And is that it? It’s like, “Well, noted. Moving on.” Or what’s the next step?

Caroline Goyder
There’s a yoga teacher called John Stokes who talks about…it all gets quite easy, but he talks about sensation rises from the ground up. So, you can notice all the sensation from your feet upwards, and it meets consciousness which comes down. And then somewhere in the middle is thinking. And so, we spent a lot of time thinking, probably not very much time in consciousness and very little time in sensation. And, for me, it was the fact becoming more present to sensation. And then I’ve also learnt to meditate and do yoga stuff, and consciousness is something I’m only in the foothills of, but that’s an interesting one too.

Pete Mockaitis
And that is intriguing in terms of splitting that into three segments because those are quite distinct from each other, as I’m thinking. It’s like, okay, sensation? “Boom! There’s warmth in this cup.” Thinking is like, “Okay, what’s my expression here?” And so then, what is consciousness?

Caroline Goyder
I would probably pass you to John Stokes on that one. What is consciousness?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, man, just making small talk over there.

Caroline Goyder
I mean, we could start a Ph.D. on this question. I’ll tell you in about 10 years when I’ve done some more meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I mean, I suppose I have a pretty succinct definition for consciousness. But I guess, maybe, one’s experience of consciousness in this narrow context of that thing which is distinct from thinking and sensation, what is it kind of like when you’re in the consciousness mode? Because I know what it’s like when I’m in the thinking mode and when I’m in the sensation mode, but what’s it like when I’m in the consciousness mode?

Caroline Goyder
Well, I was thinking, this is one of your earlier podcasts, and it gets into the Csikszentmihalyi flow state for me. I know when I’m present to consciousness because it becomes more, the field opens up. I’m tuned into the room in a bigger way. I’m not locked into my own, “Oh, you’re in it. This is…” that I’m open to something bigger, something more connected. So, that’s my experience of consciousness, but there are people who are way further down the path than me on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I think that mission accomplished in terms of clarifying that question for me there because in terms of, yeah, I know what that experience is like, and it is distinct from, “Okay, I’m thinking about some things now,” and it is distinct from, “Ooh, there’s a tickle in my throat.” It’s sort of like you are conscious of what is going on and you’re flowing in it but it’s kind of like…boy, gosh, I’m almost thinking about sort of like levels of abstraction there. Like they say, oh, man, I’m thinking about my professor.

So, they say, hey, there’s data, there’s information, and there’s knowledge, or something like that in terms of we could say that, “Data would suggest like sales are $5 million and costs are $4 million.” Information would be, “Oh, we have a gross profit margin percentage of 20% with one million profit over five million sales.” And then knowledge would be like, “Oh, and that’s good based on my experience and my industry and comparables, yadda, yadda, yadda.”

And so, these are sort of three different layers of, I guess, wisdom maybe, you might say, just as these are three different layers of experience. And consciousness is higher in a way in that it’s abstracting and encapsulating broad stuff underneath them. Caroline, I’m just thinking through this real time. Comments or thoughts.

Caroline Goyder
I refer you to John Stokes and his new book. It’s fascinating because it made me think how much I had to learn sensation in order to dissolve my thinking and in order to access a bigger field to be in the room, not just locked away in my head. And, for me, coming through the body through sensation was the way to dissolve the thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, you know, it’s funny because, in a way, what we’re talking about is a smidge abstract and, yet, I think, experientially, I maybe feel, as opposed to just thinking, exactly what you’re saying there in that…

Caroline Goyder
And there’s a really simple way, there’s a really specific, to make it not abstract, actors will say when they get on stage, “Feel your feet on the floor. Feel the air on your face. Feel the clothes on your skin. See something across the space that you haven’t noticed before.” So, although it is quite abstract in some ways, in other ways it’s just incredibly practical.

Pete Mockaitis
And in doing those things, you are exiting your thinking mode. And, as a result of having exited it, you may well be on your way to the consciousness flow mode.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Cool. Well, I mean, that’s huge right there, is that we’re going to take some moments throughout the day and just before big performance times to check in and sort of get the sensation going. What else do you recommend we do in terms of getting those confidence habits working for us?

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m noticing a lot at the moment with people in busy work lives is that they’re saying to me, “My voice is tired at the end of the day. I feel really flat. I feel really compressed.” And so much of our lives right now, whether we’re working at home or back in the office, that takes us into a bit of a hunch, and it closes our breathing down, and it compresses us. And then when we try and show up in a meeting, we’re all small and closed.

And so, one of the things that people can really do to help them at work is to open up their breath and open up their voices. And I’m saying to people a lot at the moment, “Just sing. Put some music on in the morning and sing for five minutes and just enjoy it, and it doesn’t have to be tuneful, and you will show up in your meetings with a different kind of resonant frequency because your voice isn’t stuck in your throat. It’s moving, it’s fluid, it has tone, it has resonance. And people will be attracted to that because it makes them feel good.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in a world in which we’re kind of hunched over and we don’t have ergonomically an optimal setup and we’re just sort of moving from thing to thing to thing, and maybe even trying to watch our volumes, you’re saying we can sort of shift a gear by doing some singing when we’re alone, and that’s just going to kind of follow us into having resonance when we’re with people.

Caroline Goyder
The thing about voices, voice is the expression of your aliveness because voice is breath. It’s exhaled air. And when we get really tensed and compressed, we express a real fight or flight adrenal reaction to people in our voices and our breathing. And singing, humming, chanting, long outbreaths, all of those things take us into good vagal tone. And in good vagal tone, where the vagus nerve is firing on all cylinders, we show up, we smile when others smile, we laugh when others laugh. Our voices reflect and mirror each other.

And the experience of speaking, when we’ve warmed up just by singing, it’s completely different for people. They feel at ease with you. And I think there’s nothing more important in a tensed stressed-out world than making people feel at ease with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s dig into some of these terms which I’m somewhat familiar in terms of resonance and vagal nerve. Are these sorts of anatomical experiences that we can sort of check in for ourselves? Like, “Oh, I can feel my vagal nerve rocking and rolling,” or, “Ooh, I can feel resonance,” or, “Ooh, I’m feeling an absence of resonance.” How do we kind of…? You mentioned those are some exercises to activate it. How can we sort of check in and say, “Yup, that’s going,” or, “Ooh, that’s not going”?

Caroline Goyder
Well, the way that people often test this is when they hear themselves on audio, and people will often say, “Oh, I really hate my voice.” And what that tells me is that someone hears their own voice through their ears. They really don’t have an accurate sense of it. But when you’re tuned into your resonance, you’re tuned into the buzz of your voice.

People who are tuned into how their voices feel, back to the sensation thing, are much more in control. Now, how do you do that? You just put a hand on your chest and just hum. Just do me a little, “Hmmm…” then you can feel the bones kind of buzzing in your body. And you can do a low note, you could go, “Hmmm…” maybe put a hand on your tummy, “Hmmm…” And you might do a higher note, “Hmmm…” that’s going to be higher up in your head, in your nose.

And so, you can just play. You can even do a pitch play. And the sound, the high notes resonate in your head, the low notes resonate in your gut, the middle notes resonate in your chest. We know this from altos and tenors and basses. We know that some people have chest voice. And if you start to tune into the sensations of where your voice buzzes in your body, A, you’re much more in your body, less in your head, and, B, you’re going to have more control. And when you hear your voice on a recording, it’s not going to be such a shock because you can feel it. So, that’s resonance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, resonance, we want it, and so a humming can activate it, and so we might even just check in as we’re talking. And maybe could you give us a demo? I mean, in terms of audio style, what’s a voice sounding like with resonance and without resonance?

Caroline Goyder
So, I can tell you how I used to sound.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Caroline Goyder
If I stick my head forward, and if I breathe into my upper chest, and if I tense my jaw, and if I talk to you and it all becomes a bit flat, and I can really feel it. I can feel it in my teeth, and I can feel it in my pharynx and in my throat. And it’s an experience of being a talking head. Okay? So, I spent a long time doing a version of that.

And I’m no Brian Blessed. I don’t know if you know the actor. He’s got the most incredible bass voice. I’m no Barry White, but when I speak now, what’s different is that I can feel my voice kind of buzzing in my chest and my shoulders. It feels more open in my throat. I can feel it a bit in the back of my head. And I know if I have to do a play, which I wouldn’t anymore, I would spend half an hour warming it up so that my fingers buzzed with sound when I spoke. So, it’s just the physics of it. It’s the bone conduction. It’s feeling the effect of sound buzzing through your bones, really, that’s what resonance is.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so interesting is, and we’ll see what the listeners feel in terms of their own speaker setup after we do the audio processing, etc. I guess my experience though of listening to both of those voices is that when you were non-resonant, I felt a little bit, I guess, I don’t know, was it nervous, uncomfortable. It wasn’t a big deal but there was a slight unpleasantness that I’m picking up from the emotional atmosphere when you were doing that. Is that normal? Tell me about this.

Caroline Goyder
I think it is because, as humans, we’re wired for trust, aren’t we? We are constantly filtering, “Can I trust this person? Will they eat me? Will they rob me? Will they attack me? Am I safe with them?” So, if we talk about the vagus nerve now, because this is when we get onto the polyvagal theory, there’s a scientist called Stephen Porges who talks about something called polyvagal theory. And it sounds really complicated but it’s actually really simple.

What he says is when we’re tensed and nervous, it’s like we’re closed behind a wrapper. And that voice that I used to live in is the voice of someone who’s tensed and hiding behind a wrapper, and we feel uncertain about that because we don’t know if we can trust them. And he said when we have what’s called good vagal tone, where we’re in the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest happy part of the system, then we take the wrapper off, and that’s when our voices have music, that’s when we smile, that’s when things are easy, and that’s when someone gets a sense of “Can I trust you?” And I think, as humans, we’re wired to notice those things, and we don’t know maybe why we get worried by the first voice, but we do. I think it’s universal.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool in so many ways. One, that’s just sort of the experience we had right here points to a body of research. Well, now, I’m curious about all of the studies and experiments and numbers that may exist in terms of describing this phenomenon.

So, with the research associated with good vagal tone and the impact that makes, have there been any noteworthy sort of studies or experiments that put these results on full display?

Caroline Goyder
I would point listeners to Stephen Porges’ website and his book The Polyvagal Theory because there’s an enormous and emerging body of research that backs up his theory, and it’s all on his site. So, just have a look at it, just put Stephen Porges into Google and have a look. They’re constantly reporting these studies. And it’s being picked up in psychology and psychiatry and trauma therapy. It’s becoming quite a big body of work with lots of attached research.

Pete Mockaitis
And what’s so fascinating, I’m sure there can be many variables, but it sounds like we’ve uncovered one potential hidden variable for all kinds of things, like, “Why does everybody like that person and they don’t like the other person? Why does everyone seem to respond and nod their heads when one person says something at a meeting, and when someone else says the same thing, it doesn’t seem to be connecting and resonating?” This could be one of those hidden mystery variables that can shed some light on it.

Now, you mentioned the phrase good vagal tone. Is that the same thing as having resonance or is there a distinction? And how do we get it?

Caroline Goyder
So, I only ever really knew about resonance and the importance of the diaphragm and the importance of breathing, and it was when I discovered polyvagal theory and how much Stephen Porges talks about voice that I joined the dots on it. And, in a sense, it really all comes back to what our bodies do when they’re safe. And when our bodies are safe, our breathing opens up, our diaphragm moves freely, our shoulders relax, our jaw untenses, our tongues relax, our sole and muscle in the hips relax, and we show up as easy and fluid and present. That’s what good voice is, that’s what actors are taught to do on stage, and it just so happens that Stephen Porges’ polyvagal theory backs up why it works for voices because when we’re safe, our voices have music.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, so many implications there. I’m reminded of we had a previous guest, Alex Banayan, who interviewed a lot of people including Larry King. And so, one thing that Larry King told him about interviewing, which is really connecting here, is that he said, “The reason that I get good results with my interviewees is that I am very comfortable in my seat, and the person I’m interviewing then kind of picks up on that, and then they are comfortable in their seat.” So, in a way, it matters less about what style and specific approach, and tactics, and questions you choose so much as you get in that groove of, “Hey, I’m really comfortable and safe and having fun and rolling with this,” and then the person that you’re interacting with feels that too, and then you naturally just have a pretty cool, fun, insightful conversation flowing from that.

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. It’s massive, isn’t it? And what it takes is the awareness to take yourself into safety. When he’s got people shouting in his ear and people telling him they’re running out of time and some of the lights have gone, he’s got all sorts of reasons to feel stressed and unsafe, and the professional is able to switch that on. That’s the success factor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Okay. Well, boy, Caroline, this is so much good stuff. So, we’ve got some key things to do in terms of finding that safety, returning into sensation, doing some humming or some singing, connecting to that resonance. Are there some things that you recommend we stop doing, things that we should cut out of our speaking, of our lives before we get into the speaking that make a world of difference in terms of this confidence?

Caroline Goyder
I’m thinking of what I’ve cut out. What have I cut out? I’ve really cut out the things that make me too speedy because it’s hard to project a sense of safety when you’ve had three cups of coffee, when you’re slightly late for a meeting, when you’re rushing, when you’re not making time. And so, the thing that I now know is that if I want to show up centered and able to make people feel safe and able to connect, I need to just carve out, ideally, half an hour, 15 minutes is good, five will do it, where I turn off my phone, where I switch off the Googling and switch off the thinking about other things, and I just come back to my feet are on the floor, my bum is on the chair, the air is on my face. What does this person want from me today? How can I help?

And if I take myself through that, that is a protocol, get present, quieten down, “How can I help?” I have good meetings. If I don’t make time for that, I don’t have good meetings.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that. It’s funny as I’m reminded of a time. I had a meeting with somebody who, you know, I’d done a lot of work for him but almost never interacted with him personally, so it was kind of a big deal, if you will, that I was having this meeting. It was a phone call, because we were going to pursue maybe some new projects, initiatives, which would have revenue potential for both of us. So, it was exciting because the stakes were up there.

And I remember when, at the beginning of the meeting, we were talking, and he said something like, “Okay, so, let’s see, what are we talking about here? Ah, yes, we’re discussing dah, dah, dah.” And what was intriguing was, in a way, I somehow felt comforted by that as opposed to pissed off, like, “Dude, you’re totally unprepared? Are you ready to like rock and roll and jump in and do this? Time is ticking. We got a short…” In a way, I could have had that kind of a reaction but, instead, what was clear to me is that he was totally comfortable just being himself and talking his mind and not sort of withholding anything from me, and I actually felt more comfortable and safe and positive about him in the meeting than if he would’ve gone hard charging like, “Okay, there are six key points we need to cover, and this, this, this.”

Caroline Goyder
Yes. It’s the meta state that matters more, isn’t it? It was his ease that was more important than his perfect deck of slides.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Caroline Goyder
And we forget that. When we get nervous, and we’ve all done it, we think, “I have to prepare. I have to get all of my collateral looking perfect,” and to some people, that does matter, but for most people, it’s back to the meta state of “Do you make them feel comfortable? Can they trust you? Do they get a sense that you trust yourself?” Because confidence means to trust yourself, faith in yourself. And so, this is always the thing that we forget about but it’s the thing that matters most.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, Caroline, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear quickly about a few of your favorite things?

Caroline Goyder
The thing I’m saying to people all the time is stand up. If you are doing a presentation currently in video conference land, which is going to be here for a few years, if you’re nervous, stand up. Stand up.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. All right. Stand up. I’m at a desk that I’m currently sitting so that’s why I’m a little bit ashamed. You can see me sitting.

Caroline Goyder
But it’ll be more for the big pitch or the big presentation or talking to the executive committee. The thing is that this is your sweet spot, you’re at ease doing this. If you suddenly have to go and pitch to a big film company or something, then I would say, “Stand up,” because you will feel more confident.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think I tend to stand when it’s just sort of like my body is in a standing mood, like having that option, or it’s like, “Oh, I’m getting a little sleepy. I should not get comfy. I should stand up and have a little bounce.” So, yeah, today, right now, I’m in sitting mode. Maybe next interview standing. But, certainly, when sort of high-stakes situations and you want to project those good things, great tip to do the standing.

So, now, can you share with a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Caroline Goyder
I love the Fritz Perls quote “Fear is excitement without the breath.” I think that sums up pretty much what I’ve learnt over the last 20 years, that you can flip fear into excitement if you become self-aware of breath and body.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Caroline Goyder
I mean, a voice coach in the UK has to mention Cisely Berry because she is, was, she died last year, the goddess of voice work, so any of Cisely Berry’s books I recommend. She’s brilliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Caroline Goyder
I’m talking about her in the present tense because she hasn’t really gone in my mind.

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

Caroline Goyder
For a long time, neuro-linguistic programming was really, really fundamentally useful, and in the last few years, Alexander Technique has replaced it. I love Alexander Technique.

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

Caroline Goyder
The “How can I help?” principle as a way to walk into a meeting and switch off your nerves and turn them into excitement is powerful. Not worrying, “How do I look? Is this any good? What do they think about me?” but “How can I help these people get what they need?” That’s a game changer. And I was taught it by the actor Bill Nighy.

Pete Mockaitis
The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
He’s the guy in Love Actually with the glasses.

Pete Mockaitis
Bill Nye, The Science Guy?

Caroline Goyder
No, no, there’s two Bill Nighys. Yes, I wish it was that Bill Nye, but it’s not. Bill Nighy is a British actor who’s in Love Actually and all sorts of…he’s in Pirates of the Caribbean. Google him, but it’s N-I-G-H-Y.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay.

Caroline Goyder
And he said, “When I get nervous, and I go into an audition or I go into a film set on the first day, I can either be paranoid or I can think ‘How can I help? How can I help these people do the job?’” It’s a game changer. Just try it when you get nervous. It flips everything.

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

Caroline Goyder
My website CarolineGoyder.com.

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

Caroline Goyder
You may never have thought about your voice at work apart from maybe sometimes when it shakes or it squeaks or it doesn’t sound like you want it to, but my invitation to you would be to start to notice your voice, and to start to notice when you are at your best, and to start to be curious about how you can bring that ease and that power to moments where you feel nervous. Because I promise you, that if you find that ease and power in moments where you feel nervous, you will skyrocket your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Caroline, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you much luck and inspiration in all of your adventures.

Caroline Goyder
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been a great chat. It’s made me think as well, which is always good.

590: Forming Strong Connections through Authority, Warmth, and Energy with Steve Herz

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Steve Hertz discusses why we need to change our relationship with feedback and how to develop the three skills that advance our careers.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why you shouldn’t take yes for an answer
  2. The small things that make us more authoritative
  3. How to keep conversations energizing and engaging

 

About Steve

Steve Herz is President of The Montag Group, a sports and entertainment talent and marketing consultancy. He is also a career advisor to CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and young professionals. Prior to joining TMG, Steve was the President and Founding Partner of IF Management, an industry leader whose broadcasting division became one of the largest in the space, representing over 200 television and radio personalities.

Herz received his bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Michigan and his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School. Steve is involved with several charities, including serving on the local leadership council at Birthright Israel. Steve is married with two children and lives on the Upper West Side of New York City.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Steve Herz Interview Transcript

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

Steve Herz
Thank you for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. And, for starters, when I hear about folks being agents for sports and media stars, I can’t help but think of Jerry Maguire and dramatic experiences of negotiation and high-stakes deal-making. Can you tell us an exciting story from behind the scenes?

Steve Herz
Well, yeah, there’s quite a few. I would say that, for me, personally, I don’t know, I’ve actually enjoyed seeing a client get a job from a small market and move into a big market. That’s been exciting for me. So, just thinking back early in my career, there’s a guy named Greg Amsinger who’s now the main talent on the MLB Network, and he moved to New York from Terra Haute, Indiana. And when he got here, he didn’t have a place to live, and he was out on the street, and there was a whole controversy of whether or not we had gotten him temporary housing. And the network, CSTV said, “No, you didn’t.”

And I was on a business trip in Seattle so I said to someone in my office, “Send him to my apartment with his wife and newborn.” And that’s where he stayed for an entire week. And so, the first time I ever met Greg Amsinger was when I knocked on my own door, coming off from red-eye from Seattle, and he opened the door with his wife Erica, this was about 18 years ago, and there he was in my apartment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. And that’s what someone wants from an agent, they’re really in your corner and do whatever it takes. So, very cool. Well, you’ve got a fresh book here called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. Intriguing title. What’s the story here?

Steve Herz
So, the story is this, that I have been an agent, as you know, for almost 30 years now, and I think I’ve had almost a test tube that I was able to look at over all this time to notice and pay careful attention to what types of people moved ahead in the world and what types of people didn’t. And, over time, I found that there were two common links that determine the very successful from the people that often just plateaued.

And those two qualities were, one, they really wanted to get better at their craft, whatever that might be. They were always looking to improve. And they were looking for feedback all the time, and it wasn’t just lip service. And the second part of it is that they actually did improve, and they really improved the way they came across on television whether it was their authority in terms of their voice, whether it was their energy of how they called the game or did a particular story, and how compelling they became, and how the audience was able to relate to them.

And so, the book really is about this thought that I had is that if a broadcaster could take these skills and hone for, what I would call, public speaking, why can’t anybody, a dentist, a doctor, a lawyer, hone their own communication skills and move ahead in the same way? And that’s how the book came to be.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, what is it precisely that we’re not taking yes for an answer about?

Steve Herz
So, basically, kind of everything. You think about maybe your job is different, but most of us will go through a week, a month, a year, and we will hear nothing from our colleagues or from our bosses or clients, even clients that might be dissatisfied with you, in my particular business, and you think everything is going great. And, often, somebody will terminate their relationship with you, or quit, or fire you, and many of us don’t know what hit us.

And so, I believe that a lot of us have gotten caught up in this, what I call the echo chamber of yes. And part of that is because we’ve had great inflation, we’ve had this participation trophy, and now a lot of HR departments in American businesses, they don’t want to fire people. They’d rather use euphemisms like downsizing, or reorgs, or riffs. And that person on the other end of it, gets caught up in what I call the vortex of mediocrity and they don’t know. And so, that’s a long answer to your question, but everybody and everything can hear yes if you don’t look out for it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, that reminds me as I’ve got a friend who’s an executive of a shall we say mature business line.
And so a part of that is that, boy, every few months there’s another round of people that they lay off. And so, and he tries to really be kind and diplomatic and proactive and even breaks the rules a little bit, tells them before he’s supposed to tell them. He’s like, “Hey, just so you know, your position is not going to exist in a few months, so you probably want to start looking around and see if you can land somewhere else within the organization.”
And so, he says that when he has these conversations with people, what he’s always scared of them asking him is, “Well, why are you firing me and not the other guy?” but they never do. And I think that really speaks to kind of what you’ve called the echo chamber of yes, is that we can get kind of comfortable and maybe don’t want to ask that hard question when we probably should.

Steve Herz
Right. And I would also say that by the time that person has asked that question, even though, like you said, they don’t normally ask it, it’s too late. You’ve already been downsized or laid off or reorg-ed, and it’s too late. So, that’s why I’m hoping that if people pick up my book and read it and reorient themselves towards a different mindset, that they don’t take yes for an answer on a daily basis, or at least a weekly basis, or a monthly basis, and then they’ll really start seeking out that constructive feedback that is the difference between, often, not every time, but often, the person who got laid off and the one that didn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so maybe let’s think about this chronologically. First, how do we psychologically, mentally brace ourselves so that we can handle it, we can handle hearing the tough stuff? Any reframes or perspectives you would share?

Steve Herz
Yeah, I would. And the easiest one, I think, to understand is the idea of going to the doctor. Particularly, my family, I have a history of colon cancer in my family, so I’m only 54 but I’ve had four or five colonoscopies already, and I started getting them in my late 30s, and I’ve had a few tiny little scares—luckily nothing, but those little tiny things could grow into big things if you don’t take care of them.

And the thing is that you would never, in a million years, if you’re a reasonably sane person who knows you have a history of whatever, in this case, this colon cancer, you would never not get a colonoscopy. You wouldn’t say, “Oh, well, maybe I won’t get it,” and at the last minute, someone tells you, you have stage four colon cancer, God forbid. Nobody would take that chance. And that’s, I think, literally, what happens to some people in their career. They never stop and ask, “How am I doing? How does my ‘colon’ look or my career look? How does my performance look?” And ask that question and get that X-ray from their boss or from their friends or colleagues.

And if you reframe it in a way to understand that so much of what bad could happen to you and your career is very preventative. It’s completely preventative in so many cases, that if you reframe it that way, you’ll see not only will that be a benefit but, also, you’re not going to get better unless you’re this one in a million person who just gets better on your way. You’re not going to get better at your job or in anything if you’re not targeting and really trying to understand what your weaknesses are and how you can minimize them or improve upon them.

And you think about an athlete or a musician, how is anybody going to get better if they don’t practice the things they need to practice? But if we’re not being told what to practice, and we’re not being able to identify them, there’s no way. So, hopefully, that’s a really positive reframing for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that really is good in terms of those proactive checks-in for feedback are a means of preventative maintenance. Like, for the doctor, we go to the dentist, we get our car’s oil changed, and when we find out, “Oh, there’s a cavity,” or there’s a problem with the vehicle, well, in a way, it’s a bummer, like, “Ahh, I got to spend some time with the dentist,” or some money with the mechanic. But it’s like, “Oh, I’m glad I caught it early as opposed to late.”

I guess one distinction I’d put there is that there’s less of an emotional charge there in terms of if, Steve, you told me, “Pete, you’re completely unprofessional. Yeah, I don’t know if you and your show were legit,” or kind of whatever. Whatever the tough feedback might be, I think it’s natural that we would sort of take that much more personally or emotionally than we would if we got the news that our spark plugs need to be replaced or there’s a cavity. How do you think about the emotional dimensions here?

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, I agree with you. I wouldn’t really want to hear from anybody that, “You’re unprofessional.” I’d want to know why I was unprofessional. And one of the things I talk about is the book is called Don’t Take Yes for an Answer. It’s not Don’t Give Yes for an Answer. So, I’m trying to also change the mindset of, “It’s not my place to tell Pete, after the show, what he needs to do better. He’s not asked me. He’s doing really well. He’s got a great show. Why is he interested in my opinion for?”

If you came to decide on your own that I had a particular value to you, and you thought you wanted to improve, and you first reached out to me, and said, “Steve, thank you for coming on my show. What do you think I could do better?” then you’ve opened up the door to a conversation. But it’s not my place to be your coach so I think it’s, first and foremost, the individual’s job to seek out the feedback. And, also, just like it’s your job to go to the doctor or get your car inspected, but, also, find the right people to do it.

You want to find people who you trust and, also, who actually care about you, and you feel have an interest in your growth, because a lot of people will just say, “Oh, Pete, your show stinks,” or, “Pete, you’re unprofessional.” That’s not valuable. That’s not helpful. And a lot of people might just honestly be on the ego trip because they get to tell a big podcast host how he’s not that great and why they can take him down a peg. But that’s not at all valuable and it’s not actionable.

So, in my book, the second half of my book, it’s all about what are the action steps you can take. And what I really think is that a lot of us, in terms of the blind spots of what we could be improving upon, it’s the impression that we’re making on people on an everyday basis, and it falls into one of these three categories. Do you have the right authority? Do you have the right warmth? Are you connecting with people and are you energizing somebody? And that’s where it really comes down to.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, this reminds me, when you talked about getting the right people, we had a guest on the show, Steve Ritter, who mentioned that there’s some research that suggest a startlingly large proportion of the variance of when an intervention is successful, whether when it’s like with a coach or a trainer or a consultant or a therapist or a counselor, it just boils down to sort of the chemistry between those two people, and in terms of like, “Do I think Steve is a good guy who cares about me and knows some stuff? Or do I think he’s just a jerk and I’m just not really able to receive what you have to offer even if it’s great stuff?”

So, I found that intriguing. I think that really resonates in terms of you’ve got to find those right people. Could you share, is there any intriguing research or studies that you’ve come across when it comes to this zone of feedback and not getting enough of it? What have you discovered there as you’re putting this together?

Steve Herz
Well, the most interesting study that I came across was probably…well, there’s really two but they’re very related so I’ll share them both with you. One is that there was a study done in 1918 by the Carnegie Foundation as a seminal study that shows that the correlation and the causal relationship between how successful you are professionally and how good you are at the technical part of your job, even amongst like an engineer, is only 15%. So, I interpret that data to be you have to be good at your job but there’s going to be a lot of other people that are also good at the technical part, and that’s not going to be the differentiator between how you go from just getting a seat at the table, to getting to higher reaches of your company, or having influence and having clients, or a popular show like you do.

So, what is that 85%? That’s one very important study. And the way I see it is that that 85% is the difference between the hard skills and the soft skills. But it kind of goes back to your original question earlier, your kind of funny remark about, “Well, I think you’re unprofessional,” whatever. This whole idea of soft skills is so misunderstood by people, and there are not a lot of languages around it, there’s not a lot of metrics around it. And you talk about that guy Steve Ritter who says, “Well, if I don’t like you or connect with you, I’m not going to really take feedback from you.” The reason why is because there’s something granular about how you’re coming across other people. And that can be broken down into smaller parts.

And so, the second study, kind of very consistent with the first one, is that Google has a thing called Project Oxygen by which they hire software engineers, and they hire them based on eight criteria. One of them being how good you are as a software engineer. But of those eight criteria, they only count that eighth among eight. Everything else is a soft skill, even at Google.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m now intrigued. When you said Google project, I thought you were saying Aristotle. But here you went and surprised me. What are those eight components?

Steve Herz
Well, it’s a question of, “Can you lead a team? Can you be a follower? Can you be a fellow? Can you collaborate? Can you take ideas from other people? Are you timely in getting your projects done? Do you take feedback?” All the things that I think go into, ironically, you’re awesome at your job, my book is about awe. So, it’s all about what that goes into, “Do you have that A-W-E?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s dig right into it. So, authority, warmth, energy. How do we develop those things? Or maybe what are some common ways that we’re just squandering or failing to develop authority, warmth, and energy? Because I think most of us would say, “Oh, yeah, I’m fairly authoritative. I know my stuff. Yeah, I’m a pretty warm nice guy. Yeah, I’m energetic enough.” What are some of the ways that people are really differentiated in terms of like fine with their authority, warmth, and energy, and outstanding? How do we become outstanding?

Steve Herz
Okay. So, I think there’s two really small but very significant things that people do to differentiate themselves. One is the person who finishes his or her sentences strongly and believes in what they’re saying, as opposed to speaking in singsong way or that kind of glottal fry and trailing off in your words, and belying to yourself and to your audience that you’re really not convinced in what you’re saying in the first place, right? So, that’s one thing.

And the second thing is people who believe in their message have a certain natural inflection to their voice. And the reason why they have that inflection is because their cadence becomes almost lyrical in nature because they’re believing and there’s like a real natural variance to their voice in terms of their pitch, their pace, their volume, they’re moving around, their energy, you know it when you see it. And they’re also pausing very well for effect, and that’s where the inflection comes in. And what they’re not doing. The most important thing they’re not doing, versus the other group is, they’re not using any filler words. People who use filler words – uhm, like, you know, so, – they really compromise their authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s pretty clear there. And could you give us an example of the intonation picture of good authority versus not-so-great authority?

Steve Herz
Like I said, it’s someone who says, “Pete, I’m going to come on your show and I am going to tell you the most important thing your audiences ever heard. It’s going to change their life. It’s going to be actionable. It’s going to be memorable. It’s an acronym. And after they listen to it, there’s going to be infinite change by your audience.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Steve Herz
And the next person is going to say, “Pete, you know, I would really like, you know, to have you on…I’d like to really come on your show. I’ve worked, you know, really hard on this idea. And, you know, I think it has a lot of value. Uhm, I’m hoping, like, you’d feel the same way. And if they listen, you know, I think… I do think they’ll get something out of it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, the pauses are the most noticeable in terms of that illustration. But then, yes, also the…I guess it’s…what’s the perfect adjective here? It’s a little timid, like you’re just…it’s almost like you’re a little bit scared. Like, if I were to say, “Steve, I think you’re completely wrong,” you’d be like, “Okay, I’m sorry.” And I guess that’s the impression that it delivers there.

Well, that’s the authority part because I think, in a way, you could be super authoritative but not warm, and that would be unappealing. So, that’s the authority piece. Let’s hear the warmth piece in terms of what do professionals need to do and not do to have that warmth come across.

Steve Herz
Well, first of all, any communication, as you well know, it’s irrelevant except for how the listener is hearing you, right? And if the listener hears it in a certain way, and that’s different from the way that you mean it, then the only thing that matters is how they hear it. So, from the perspective of warmth, you want to tailor your message in a way that you make the other person feel known that this is valuable and important to them either by speaking from their perspective or, like I tried to do earlier, “Pete, I want to come on your show, I want to tell you this because it’s going to be actionable and it’s going to change your audience’s life.” Everything is about them, the listener, what you’re getting out of it, not about me, right? So, hopefully, that connotes a level of warmth.

And then we can also connote warmth in many different subtle ways. One thing that connotes warmth is when you’re talking to me, part of life is listening and also making you feel attentive, I’m going to make eye contact with you, I’m going to answer your question in a way that demonstrates that I listen to what you had to say, that I cared enough to hear what you wanted to tell me, and I’m going to follow up with something that’s consistent, not a non sequitur, for example.

And, also, I’m going to smile at you when appropriate. I’m going to have open-body language. And, as much as possible, I’m going to try to turn the conversation in a way so that it’s going to be about you. And all that contributes to warmth among many other things. And then, also, as you pointed out earlier, part of it is in your vocal tone. If you’re coming out strong like a bulldog with every aspect of your communication, you’re going to blow people away and not connect with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s hear about energy now.

Steve Herz
So, that’s a tricky one. That’s probably the trickiest one of all. I’d say energy is really, again, just from the perspective of combining it with warmth, is the only thing that matters about your energy is, “How am I making you feel?” And so, for example, I can be a very high-energy guy, and it just might be, Pete, if I got to know you really well, I might learn that you don’t really respond well to high energy. And every time I get too high energy, it actually deflates you. So, it would be incumbent upon me to know that when I’m talking to Pete, I got to really modulate that energy.

And then I might have another colleague who really responds very well to high energy, and I can modulate my energy a little bit differently. Also, by listening to you, and by really keying myself into what you have you to say, and by being very attentive to you, that’s going to energize you as well because you know I care about you.

Pete Mockaitis
And it seems in terms of like that matching and connecting in terms of high energy or low energy, I almost sort of imagine there could be even more nuances and flavors in terms of the high energy or the low energy. Like, you could be high energy in the sense that you’re talking really fast and you’re fired up and whoa. Or, you could be high energy at a lower pace just like I’ve seen some people who, it’s clear they’re really enthusiastic about what they’re saying just because of like the way they’re moving eyebrows and smiling. Even if they’re not talking a mile a minute, it’s like, “Oh, okay. This guy is pretty fired up about this. Okay.”

And so, that’s intriguing that within the high and low is one way to think about sort of like the matching and how you’re being received. Are there any other kind of nuances or hues or flavors that you’d put on the energy for us to consider?

Steve Herz
I think it’s really just about trying to develop a little bit more self-awareness about yourself, and really keying into how is the person you’re talking to or the people you’re talking to, how are they responding to you. And trying to make those adjustments in the moment, and eventually getting to a point where you have such good habits about the way you communicate, and you’re reading someone’s face or their eye contact or their lack of eye contact, or what have you, or their lack of nodding, lack of responsiveness, that you can make those adjustments in the moment. One of the things I say is it’s not just important to read the room, it’s also important to read how the room is reading you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And are there any sort of telltale indicators you recommend that we be on the lookout for in terms of, “Ooh, this is a thumbs up or a thumbs down indicator based on what I’m seeing with some body language or facial expressions or tone”?

Steve Herz
One of the best indicators is a lack of responsiveness. So, if you’re talking to someone, and I could see you right now, this is a great example of it, is that you’re just blinking barely, and you’re not nodding at all, so if this was a real conversation in person, I’ll just stop.

Pete Mockaitis
Sorry.

Steve Herz
No, no, no. It’s a great example actually. It’s a great example because if I’m not getting a response from you, then I know that it can quickly go from a dialogue to a monologue, and that is something that would often deflate people. Nobody wants to be in a monologue especially in a long conversation. Not for long.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. And I guess, in that moment as I was blinking, I was just waiting for the goods in terms of it’s like, “One of the things…” I think that’s what you said, “One of the things that you should be on the lookout for…” I was like, “Okay, I’m listening. What is the thing?”

Steve Herz
You’re one of the things I was on the lookout for though.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so just non-responsiveness. And so then, if you’re just blinking, that’s kind of nothing. Part of it is, and I guess this is also a context associated, if people crossed their arms, maybe they’re uncomfortable and maybe they’re cold. In some ways, like I’m constrained to not move more than an inch away from this microphone which limits me a bit. But, okay, so non-responsiveness is one thing to be on the lookout for, like they’re just sort of doing nothing but blinking. What are some other thumbs down or thumbs up indicators?

Steve Herz
I think you just put your head on a really good one. Body language is really important, not just the arms folded, but if you’re talking to someone and you noticed that your hips or your shoulders are parallel to theirs, and they start moving their shoulders or their hips away from you, that’s an indication that you’re not someone that is particularly interesting to them and/or energizing them. And I think those are kind of the telltale signs. And, in addition to when I talk about non-responsiveness, I mean non-responsiveness from facial-nodding perspective, but also from a conversational point of view. If they’re not responding, and saying, “Hey, you know what, I agree with that,” or, “I don’t agree with that,” and there’s not really a dialogue, that’s all the signs you would need, hopefully, to prevent yourself from overstaying your welcome or not soliciting or listening someone to have a dialogue with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, those are the three things we’re going for with that authority, that warmth, that energy, and we talked at the beginning about how it’s very important to ensure that you’re getting that feedback and you’re asking for it. And so, now that we know sort of what we’re shooting for, how would you recommend we specifically ask for what we need in the feedback department?

Steve Herz
Well, I think, as I said earlier, I think, first and foremost, try to find people that will give you what I call tough love. And when I say tough love, I mean love not just the tough. You want to find people that are really invested in you and your future and your growth. And even if they’re going to be tough on you, you know it’s coming from a place of goodness and really operating in your best interest. And then I think it’s just a question of trying to find someone that can analyze you in a way that is really accurate so it shouldn’t be hard to find objective qualities about yourself.

For example, in the book, we talk about, I talked about earlier, these filler words. That’s not something that’s very subjective. Either you’re using a lot of filler words or you’re not. So, now, in this time of the pandemic and we’re all home with Zoom and everything is being recorded a lot more than it used to be, you can record yourself and try to be on the lookout for some of these things. And you can look out for, “Are you someone that is responding well to another person? Are you showing that kind of warmth? Are you smiling? Are you energetic in your communication?” And once you can pinpoint those things, then I think you have the basis of the beginnings of some helpful growth.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And those ideas associated with recording yourself or maybe using an app like Speako…!! which will automatically transcribe and record those is huge. And I think it’s so fun to be able to – I’d work out on this – being able to quantify the results in terms of, “Oh, hey, I had these many filler words per minute last week, and now it’s lower this week.” So, that’s exciting.

Steve Herz
Exactly. No, no, I was going to say you’re exactly right. And the other thing I offer people, and I think this is a really good trick or hack, if you will, in the book is that instead of trying to develop all this self-awareness once you’ve figured out, okay, let’s say you use too many filler words, hypothetically, of course. Let’s say that’s the case. I don’t want you to go trying to automatically stop using filler words. What I want you to do is try to create an environment in your life where you become very sensitive and aware of filler words. Because, often, we’re not really aware of how we’re using filler words but we can become very aware of other people using them.

So, I talk about this thing called hyper external awareness. So, whether it’s bad body language, or filler words, or not finishing your sentences, or any of the myriad things we all do that kind of compromise our own communication, start noticing it first in others after someone has pointed it out to you.

Pete Mockaitis
Great. 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?

Steve Herz
I’ll say one last thing about authority because we didn’t talk about it. It really fits in well right here. I think some of the most authoritative people and persuasive people I met along the way in this process are people that are huge at what they call, and I would also agree with them, is kind of a detached authority. They believe what they believe, they own it internally, their whole communication belies it, but they don’t try to sell you on them. And so, I guess, hopefully, I’m going to be a little detached about my own authority about this concept, and people have heard enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Wait. That’s really a great point because, I guess, if I perceive that you need me to believe you or to buy the product or whatever, then that just… I don’t know what the word is. It’s not reverse psychology or alpha stuff but…

Steve Herz
It’s needy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Steve Herz
It’s needy. If your product is so good, why do you need me to have it? Like, why are you desperate for me to buy it? There must be something weak about it that you have to have me get this.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s kind of like playing hard to get, seriously. If you’re such a person…what’s that?

Steve Herz
No, but if you don’t mind me saying, well, I did meet a few people along the way who do play hard to get but they have every reason to play hard to get. They have something so special that you really should want it, and they don’t try to sell it at all, and it’s very powerful.

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

Steve Herz
I love the Oscar Wilde quote, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” So, it’s just a reminder to try to be authentic to you every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Herz
I’d say my favorite book, believe it or not, is How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. It probably had a lot to do with everything I’m doing here from seeing life from another person’s perspective.

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

Steve Herz
I would just say, it’s a weak answer, but the iPhone. It allows me to not be behind a desk 24/7 even way before this pandemic. And I think I’ve been one of these people who’ve worked remotely for probably the last 20 years to a large extent.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Steve Herz
Just every day, I’d say, for the past 10 years, I have flossed my teeth after having horrible, horrible gum issues. And that habit that I took in 10 years ago has helped me build a lot of other habits. But that’s a keystone habit for my whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s an intriguing story right there. So, you started flossing. And how did that end up turning into additional habits?

Steve Herz
So, like I said, 10 plus years ago, I was told by my dentist that I needed gum surgery, and I had been a terrible flosser, and just horrible at it, and I begged him to give me one last chance. And, at the same time, I had read this book called Willpower by a guy named John Tierney, and he had this tip about how to build habits. So, I took all the tips in the book and just tried to build this habit for three weeks, 21 days, that was the trick in the book. And I set an alarm on my phone for 9:55 every night that I would have to floss at 9:55.

So, what ended up happening is I flossed that first night, and the second, and the third, and now, like I said, for probably thousands of nights so much. But after doing it at 9:55, first of all, I’d stop eating at that point. If ever I would eat late, I’d stop doing that. Secondly, I started going to bed earlier because the alarm went off at 9:55 and I would get to bed. And then I started getting up earlier, I started working out more regularly, so it had this cascading effect of all these really good things happening in my life. And, by the way, to this day, I still never needed the gum surgery.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. And are you still flossing at 9:55 or is it just whenever the time comes?

Steve Herz
No, 9:55. The alarm still goes off.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s great.

Steve Herz
I can’t even figure out how to take the alarm off the phone, which probably is a good thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m not going to tell you because it’s working for you. And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, they quote it back to you often?

Steve Herz
Well, now, it’s “Don’t take yes for an answer,” which is kind of funny. People use this on me as a tool. It’s become a retort from all my friends. If I’m doing something that they don’t want to agree with me, “Don’t take yes for an answer.” Even my kids are using it on me now.

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

Steve Herz
Just at my website www.StevenHerz.com and they can download a free eight-page guide about the book, and all social media and everything I’ve done, writing, podcast, etc.

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

Steve Herz
I would say just don’t take yes for an answer in your own life, however that manifests for you. Have what I would call aggressive humility about yourself. Realize that all of us, and by the way, I wrote the book and there’s a million things I need to improve upon. So, have that level of aggressive humility and know that if you really want to reach your potential, every day you should be striving to get better. And the best way to do it is to seek feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Steve, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all the ways you’re not taking yes for an answer.

Steve Herz
Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it.

477: Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Diane DiResta

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Diane:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Oh, big difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

406: How to Sharpen the Most Critical Communication Skill: Listening with Brenda Bailey-Hughes

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Brenda Bailey-Hughes says: "Listening is not the same as hearing."

Brenda Bailey-Hughes shares why and how to become a better listener.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The sad current state of listening
  2. How to fall in love with silence in a conversation
  3. The five focus areas of listening

About Brenda

Brenda Bailey-Hughes teaches communication and leadership skills at the Kelley School of Business undergrad program. She also teaches global leadership and emerging markets for Kelley Direct, the working professionals’ MBA program.

She’s authored 9 LinkedIn Learning courses and specializes in communication training and coaching for Fortune 500 executives such as P&G, Samsung, Cummins, and John Deere.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brenda Bailey Hughes Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Brenda, welcome back to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you, Pete. Thanks for having me back.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to get into it. It’s funny, the subject of listening came up as something important and wouldn’t you know it? One of our favorite guests, you, happens to have done a whole course on it so that’s easy. Let’s make this happen.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
That’s right. My colleague Tatiana Kolovou and I did a course in the LinkedIn Library. We loved that course. We had a good time with that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, I want to hear a little bit about how you listen to yourself. I love the forced segues. I learned that you have been doing journaling since you were in third grade. Can you tell us a little bit about what’s the story here?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure, sure. I started looking back the other day to see how long have I been journaling. I found, they weren’t even journals back then, they were diaries. They’re little – they have rainbows and unicorns and little locks on them with little plastic keys. Clear back to third grade as a little girl. I’m not going to reveal to your listeners how old I am, but this is decades and decades and decades and decades and decades of journaling.

It started as probably someone gave me a gift of a diary and I started writing and kind of felt good about that and liked what I was doing and felt that my ideas were clearer and my thoughts were more sorted out when I wrote, so just continued this habit throughout my adult life.

If someone asks me now “Why do you journal?” and I say it’s sanity because it really is for me the place to put all the thoughts that swirl around endlessly into one place and get them sorted out and get the mind a bit stiller.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d be curious when you crack open these journals with the rainbows and unicorns from third – fourth grade, what do you discover? Do you see any interesting themes in your life that have been present from your youngest years?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh, that’s a great question. The early ones are who did I have a crush on, what teacher am I mad at, what did mom or dad say that was a horrible thing to say to me. They’re really just childhood memories.

I was about to throw them away and then I kept reading. I’m reading child scrawl too, so it’s not even easy to read because my handwriting was such a mess as a second and third grader. But then I stumbled on a page where I’m talking about there’s a coal mining strike and so we’ve turned the heat down at home and at school. We’re using candlelight to conserve energy. I thought, hey, these are historical documents at this point. I’m not getting rid of this. But, there’s less of that than there is just the ramblings of a third grader.

Then I think the themes that emerge as an adult are interesting in the fact that there are themes. You can see me write on something for a year sort of working through something. I think that the journaling, you can’t keep writing about something day in and day out and day in and day out without sort of finally feeling inspired to go take action in your life.

I think the theme for me is to see that I have this sort of three-month rhythm. I will talk and think and write about something for three months and then I take an action and I’m on to a new thing for another three months of pondering.

For me, it was just discovering my own rhythms in life to some extent and getting comfortable with that that if I’m mulling something over for what seems like an endless amount of time, it’s probably not endless, but I probably am coming up on my three-month window of okay, your action is going to follow pretty soon.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. Yeah, that’s a cool pattern to have identified. It will be interesting to see over the course of the remaining years of life if that continues and how you can anticipate all the better.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. You said you loved the forced transitions, but I do see it as – the journaling really is connected to listening because by getting the thoughts out of my head and onto the page where I can get clearer, I can get clarity about them, it does still my mind. Having a singular focus when we’re listening, does make us better listeners. That journaling work does help me improve my listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about listening, shall we?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to start with I think a lot of folks may assume that they already listen just fine or that there’s no need to learn or study or be trained in listening. Could you make the case for us for why ought we learn more about listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, absolutely. Well, I think that you’ve hit on one of the common misconceptions about listening and that is that listening is the same thing as hearing. It’s sort of like we all hear, unless there’s a hearing disability in our lives, we’re born hearing, so why do I need training on this? But that is a physiological process. That’s your eardrums hitting on certain bones. That’s all physiological.

Listening is not the same thing as hearing. It is what we do with what the ears can hear. It’s the processing, the interpretation, the decisions about how to judge, evaluate, how to store what we’re hearing into our long-term or short-term memory. All of that is listening.

That is a skillset. Just like any other skillset like when you learn to ride a bike or you learn to use Excel. It is a skillset to be learned, to be improved. I think that misconception that we all know how to do it is you’re absolutely right, one of the places we have to argue with ourselves to get inspired to learn more about listening.

Then maybe because we confuse it and think we know how to do it, it is the least taught of all the communication-related skills. When you think communication, you’ve got reading, writing, speaking and listening. If I were to ask you right now how many years of reading did you study, well all the way through elementary and junior high and high school, we’re immersed in reading and writing classes. Most of us have even had a speaking class, at least a workshop or two in speaking.

But then when I say to people “How many listening courses have you had?” Screech. No hands go up. It’s sort of mums the word. It’s the least taught of all of the communication-related skills and yet it is the most used.

The U.S. Department of Labor tracks what percentage of our time we spend in different aspects of our work and 55% of the typical professional’s job is spent in listening, 55% of their communication time. Of your reading, writing, speaking and listening time, 55% of that is listening. It goes up as you go up the ladder. A managerial-level employee is spending upwards of 63% of her communication time listening.

Most used, least taught, that’s our use case. That’s why we need to really practice and dig in to improving our listening skills.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Brenda, I love it when you bring the numbers, so thank you for that. Maybe I’d love it if I could put you on the spot for maybe some more in terms of sort of what is the state of the quality of listening these days. I don’t even know how you’d measure that exactly, but are there any noteworthy anecdotes or audience surveys or research bits that have been done on this, like these days does the typical professional listen excellently, terribly, acceptably. Where would you peg it?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, if you’re thinking about recall as a test of listening and we do have some stats on that. We know that if you watch the nightly news and then we ask you to recall what you hear, you’re going to have about 17%, 1-7, 17% recall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Let’s imagine, now we don’t know because we haven’t done this elsewhere, but let’s imagine that that number extrapolates. That means that when you go into your next meeting and everything that everyone says they feel is important, you’re only remembering 17% of it.

Or you’re having a conversation with your spouse tonight and something really important is getting shared and you walk away and remember 17% of it. That to me says, oh, I think we can get better at this.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Yeah, that’s intriguing. I wonder, talk about the extrapolation on the one hand, folks might say “Hey, nightly news, I don’t really care that much,” but on the other hand, there’s so many ways to consume news, if you decide to turn on the nightly news, you must be semi-invested in watching the nightly news.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. Well, and I would argue that at some of my faculty meetings, I’m also not all that invested, but, nonetheless, maybe I should be is the issue here because while I might not be invested in the subject matter, I am invested in those people. If I’m not invested in their communication and what they want to share, how truly supportive and invested am I being in the relationship itself?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s great. Thank you. Thought provoking. Now I kind of want to get your sense of so if we think we’re listening well, but in fact the recall is maybe around 17%, where’s the gap coming from? What is the holdup exactly?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah. Some of it is that we have trained ourselves to listen only in order to prepare a response. If as I’m listening to someone, I catch myself already deciding how I will reply, I’m not really listening. I might be pretending like I’m listening. I may have listened to enough to decide, “Okay, I get it. I know what you’re saying. I’m going to cut you off now so that I can plan my response.”

But I think that’s one of the ways that we sort of deceive ourselves into thinking that we’re listening or that we’re a great listener and then oops, lo and behold, maybe we’re in that 17% recall list.

I think another space where we fool ourselves into listening is confirmation bias. I’m really only listening to enough of what is being said in the room to confirm what I already thought was true and that if you start saying something that contradicts or makes me feel a little “Eh,” like, “Wait, that doesn’t feel right. That’s not what I’ve always thought,” then I have all sorts of subtle ways that I just start tuning you out or twisting your words to make them mean what I want them to mean.

A classic example would be when my kids were still at home and they’re teenagers. I come home, they’re sprawled in front of the TV or a video game or whatever, and I say, “Hey, you should start your homework soon.” Now, what does the teenager think ‘soon’ means?

Pete Mockaitis
Not now and maybe whenever I feel like it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Exactly. And what does ‘soon’ mean to mama?

Pete Mockaitis
Within ten minutes it should be initiated.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I’m thinking now is what ‘soon’ meant to me, but okay, we’ll give it ten minutes versus their ‘when I’m done with this game,’ ‘when I’m done with this show.’ That’s because that’s what the teenager wants to hear is how the teenagers want to define ‘soon’ and so that’s how they interpret the word ‘soon’ what it should mean.

I think that confirmation bias, listening for what we expect to hear and sort of interpreting to confirm what we already expect are certainly some of the listening gaps that exist.

Social media has made that even easier for us. We read about the echo chamber kind of concept that we’re really not even exposed all that much to anyone who contradicts us because our social media bubbles pull us in inward more and more and more to our own biases to begin with.

But then if you take that echo chamber and even within it if a little bit of contradictory information or not even contradictory, just new and it doesn’t have a place to slide into our neatly organized mental habits, we go, “Eh, never mind. I just don’t see that. I don’t hear that. I don’t want to deal with that.” It just sort of gets scooched away.

I guess that leads us to one of our really important learning concepts is to push ourselves to seek out disconfirming information, to stay in the room long enough to say, “Okay, we’ve talked about all the reasons this is a good idea. I think it’s a good idea. Give me three reasons that it could blow up. What are the three risks we’re not looking at and how do we mitigate those?” I think that’s an important part of a professional’s responsibility and keeping a really open mind and being a good listener.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. I’d love it then if we can talk about some more of these practices. Maybe even before we go into the details, can you lay out sort of what then become all the benefits of listening masterfully as opposed to just sort of at a typical base level of listening to respond or listening to confirm what we already know?

I guess one natural consequence would be that you’re making better decisions because you’re getting all of the information that you might not have gotten. What are some other key benefits that come about if you are a masterful listener?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
I love that phrase, ‘masterful listener.’ I’m totally going to steal that for my LinkedIn classes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Masterful listeners, they are business winners and they are relational winners. Dr. Nichols was one of the founding researchers in the discipline of listening. He was originally a college, maybe it was even high school, debate teacher, a debate coach. He had debate teams.

What he started noticing is that the teams who were winning debate after debate after debate and had access to the same research and the same coaching in terms of how they presented, the real distinguishing difference was that these debate teams that listened really, really well could then parse through the opposing teams arguments so much more clearly and make a much better argument or a rebuttal that they were debate winners.

We’ve got debate winning. All of us have our share of debates. Whether we call them that or not, we have these moments in our lives all the time where we’re trying to influence others, get people to see things our way. Even just getting friends to go to the movie that you want to go to, if you’re really listening to what that friend is saying, you’ll start to understand more of why they’re arguing for another movie and how you might be able to shift their position a little bit. We have some influence around that.

I’ve seen lots of examples of where people land clients and projects and business wins because of good listening skills. Just recently a client of mine, we had done the business that we had established and I was trying to win a little bit more business and it was kind of still just out there in the open space. We hadn’t locked anything down yet. I’m sure that the company was looking at some other consultants to do some work with them as well.

But I had listened so carefully to him that then when I stumbled on a TED talk of another person talking, I thought oh, this sounds so much like Kyle – I’ll call him Kyle. I sent it to Kyle and said, “Hey, this sounds like you. This sounds like the strategy we’re talking about in your industry.” I get an email ping right back just, “Oh my gosh, you totally get me. Thank you.”

Well, to be honest, Pete, this industry is energy and it’s very confusing to me. I still don’t really understand the strategy that he had been promoting, but I had listened enough to know what he sounds like and could then make these connections. Sure enough that lands the business.

Pete Mockaitis
He says, “You really get me.” Actually, I don’t, but I’ll take it.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Apparently enough that I got my foot in the door here and I’ll figure it out from there.

But we also have on a personal level, you talk to marriage therapists or relationship counselors and frequently they say that bad listening is at the root of many of the dysfunctional relationships that they interact with and that the flipside, that sort of really good listening skills is what bolsters our relationships, both personally and professionally.

If we’re looking for wins, they’re like you said, the good decision making; it’s around our influence wins; it’s around landing business, those wins come with good listening; and our relationships are better when we are good listeners. Those are the benefits.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well, that sounds well worth it. Let’s discuss. You mentioned one of the problems is that we listen to respond. I guess I’m thinking if we have some diehard listeners to responders in the crowd, it’s sort of like, “Well, if I’m not formulating a response while they’re talking are we going to have a weird silence?”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
We are. We are. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us about that.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes. We’re going to get comfortable with that. We are going to get comfortable with “Hm.” And you’re fidgeting because you’re like, “Oh my gosh, no dead air space.” In fact Pete’s in his mind right now thinking “Well, I’ve got to edit out that little three-second pause.”

Pete Mockaitis
No, we’re keeping it. Charlie & Co., we’re keeping every half second of that. Please.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
But I think we can use what are called verbal encouragers. We want to use those when someone is speaking to us. Different people – if you’ve studied introversion and extroversion – one of the attributes of an introvert is they tend to listen in silence.

I encourage the introverts that are listening to us today, Pete, to say “Mm-hm, oh, yeah, a little bit more,” as they’re listening, just those little verbal reinforcers or encouragers to let people know that you are listening. Make sure you’re nodding, those kinds of things.

But then where we all feel though that we have to talk is when the other person has signaled that they’re done. It’s my turn now. You demonstrate that with a little pause or an upward inflection that kind of hands the baton over to me.

We just need to learn to go, “Hm, let me think. Yeah,” and then respond and give myself that pause because what I’m likely to say is going to be so much more respectful because it will paraphrase back perhaps what the person has said and it shows that I really listened all the way through to the end.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, in a way, you’re right. If there’s no transition, it’s a little bit fuzzy. It’s sort of like, “Are you still there,” especially if you’re on the phone or a digital medium. It’s like, “Hey, everything still okay over there?” But I think I love that phrase, “Hm, let me think,” or maybe it’s just something along those lines like, “I’m considering what you’ve just said,” and then you’re a silent for a few seconds.

In way you might have a hard time getting away with that in a six-person meeting or something, but one-on-one I think that that can just be amazing because they’re like, “Nobody ever thinks about what I say for several seconds. That’s awesome. I appreciate that.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thank you so much for listening. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nice. Then you’re getting okay and you’re getting comfortable with the silence. With those encourager words, what did you call them?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Verbal encouragers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, verbal encouragers. I feel like that sometimes, maybe it’s more of an extrovert problem, when people give me the verbal encouragers like too much or too fast or when I haven’t completely finished the word, like they say, “Mm-hm,” before I finish saying the word, I don’t like it.

I don’t how to interpret what I’m feeling or what value or meaning I’m putting on to it, but I almost maybe feel like I’m being rushed maybe or like it’s a show. It’s like, “Are you actually listening or are you just following a script,” where I’m talking to a robot who say every seven seconds I’m supposed to say “Mm-hm” as opposed to timing your mm-hms after I have a pause and a breath and a sentence and a phrase.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah, oh yeah. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
So you can count that as well, the over-encourager.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, absolutely. I think you’re right. We see it with people who know they’re supposed to do that or they just kind of want you to get through what you’re saying. You’re talking, I’m like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.” I’m rushing you. … get through this so that it can be my turn to talk or so that I can leave or whatever.

Yeah, you’re right. The intent behind it probably does matter because it does manifest differently. The verbal encouragers that ‘I’m encouraging you to hurry up,’ that sounds different and that feels different to the person speaking than a true, “Mm-hm, huh, yeah,” kind of that varied encouragers that are in sync with the words that are being spoken. That’s the kind of verbal encourager that works.

Pete Mockaitis
Hey, did I do it too early? I hope not.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, it wasn’t too early.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I really was ready to ask a new question, but I also felt like I got what you were saying.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You did. You did.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, good. It’s like so meta. I’m so self-conscious now.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Well, okay, let me put us at ease. A spontaneous conversation when the conversationalists leave and we ask them to rate their experience and they say, “Oh, it was awesome. It was spontaneous. It was good. I felt good about that conversation.” When we go back and do a tracking of the conversation, there is overlap. There are those moments when the second speaker starts speaking before the first speaker has completely ended. I’m relieving you of that self-consciousness if we overlap because that is a part of it.

I’m thinking more of when we’re in those meetings or we’re doing a deep listening dive to someone who’s sharing very deeply about an issue in their lives or with their work and that’s when I think we need to get comfortable with the pause. It’s when we catch our brains formulating a response so that we don’t have a pause, that’s when we’ve got to get comfortable with it so we’re not doing that, so that we stay tuned into our speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so if you’re listening and the goal is not to formulate a response, what should the new goal be and the internal questions you’re asking yourself and the focus that you choose when you are not talking and someone else is talking?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, right. I would these get into what I call the five focus areas of listening. The questions I’m asking myself, that internal dialogue, if it’s not to formulate my response, what should it be? It depends on what kind of listening I’ve set out to do.

For example, depending on what kind of a situation I’m facing, what kind of conversation this is, I need to listen differently. Sometimes I need to listen to recall the details. Sometimes I just need to listen for the big picture. Sometimes I need to evaluate the content. Sometimes I need to pay attention to the nonverbals. Sometimes I need to listen to empathize.

If we use this podcast for example, I think listening for the details, well, I know you love your stats and you love it when I bring the numbers. That’s probably not the most important listening here. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day whether the U.S. Department of Labor tells us we spend 55 or 56% of our communication time listening.

But you wanted that big picture. You wanted to be able to end the podcast and go, “Okay, I get it. We spend more time listening than any other communication piece and yet we have the least training on it.” That’s the big picture. I would think that’s what you’re listening for as you listen today.

Or maybe even some of that evaluating of the content. There’s a part of your brain that needs to be going, “Okay, is my guest today just talking crazy stuff or is there some legitimacy and some credibility behind this,” because you have to decide am I going to publish this. Am I going to roll this out? Do I need to push back and ask some more questions to find out where this research or this claim came from? What’s the research, the data supporting it?

Maybe there’s a little bit of an evaluative mindset to how you’re listening, definitely some big picture thinking. But if we go on through the rest of your day, what are some of the rest of the things on your calendar today, Pete? We’ll look at what kinds of listening you should be doing the rest of your day.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure. Well, another podcast interview, talking to an accountant about some treatment of things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Now that recalling details suddenly might become pretty important.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Because when the accountant says, “Oh, you’ve got to do this here and you can’t do that here.” That’s a detail-oriented listening. You’re going to kick in to a totally different mindset when you go to your accountant meeting than you have with me and your next guest up. What else is on your calendar today?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then I guess there’s just sort of quiet work in terms of at the computer and wrapping things up.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
What’s the evening look like? Going home, going to have some dinner?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, hanging out with wife and baby and chatting.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Wife and baby, we don’t want you in evaluative content or even necessarily recalling the details depending on if you and your spouse are talking about dates that need to be on the calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
What the accountant said.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, what did the accountant – right. But if she’s just telling you what happened during her day and what cute things happened with the baby, then you’re all about listening to pay attention to be attuned to her nonverbals and to empathize with how your speaker is feeling. That’s the shift you want to make.

A huge part of listening effectively is thinking through what kind of listening is called for in this moment, in this conversation at this meeting and then pulling out the stops all about that type of listening.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent in terms of just getting yourself in the right sort of brain space in terms of what am I stepping into this conversation, what are my goals and how am I going to choose to listen.

I guess if I’m thinking about me personally, coming from a strategy consulting background and intense podcast listening associated with okay, what are the things people need to do in order to become awesome at their job. Give me the goods and give me the high-leverage, high-impact stuff that’s relatively easy to do. A nice bit of leverage is kind of what gets me fired up.

I guess I have maybe less intense practice at the listening for the sort of emotional empathy stuff. We had a great conversation previously with Aaron Levy about just how powerful that is for employees who feel like you really understand them. You really get them because you are conveying that so well.

Can we go deeper into this one in terms of what’s going on in your brain and how are you being as you are listening to understand really where someone’s coming from, what they’re feeling and any emotions and such?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Sure. I think this is an important piece, so for you, Pete, and maybe for your listeners that you’ve heard from, you’re saying it’s this emotional listening, empathy listening. I would have other people that I’ve coached that say “It’s that big picture. I get so caught up in the weeds. I’m taking down copious notes. I’ve got three pages of notes, but I can’t tell you what any of it meant.”

I think it’s a fairly personal self-reflection that needs to happen to identify “Where is my weakest area? What’s my strongest so that I know to leverage that? But which of these areas can I really build out and develop a little bit better? I think that’s going to be a pretty personal choice. People need to do some soul searching to figure that out.

Maybe even ask some friends who will be really honest and candid with you about it, “Of these, where do you feel like I’m strong and where do you feel like I kind of fall down a bit?”

But to the empathizing piece, I think the two, empathy and listening in an attuned way kind of go hand-in-hand. When I’m thinking about attuning, I’m asking myself “What can I see that I can’t hear?” The speaker is saying these words and I’m listening to those. I’m tracking on those and I’m trying not to prejudge those or allow those to come through my mental filter or confirmation bias. I’m really just trying to hear what the speaker is saying.

But what can I see that I can’t hear? Is the speaker squirming in his chair when he said it? Is he wringing his hands? Are his eyes lighting up and his voice starting to spark when he talks about that subject? ‘What can I see that I can’t hear?’ I think is a driving question when I’m really trying to listen for that emotional piece.

In fact, one of the ways I teach people and I’ve done this to practice listening for the nonverbal is to watch a television program that you’re not really familiar with and turn the volume off.

Then just see after you watch the characters and you watch the interaction, you’ll watch a 30-minute sitcom or a one-hour drama or something, and then figure out what was your best guess as to what the plot line was and what the relationships were between the characters and who was feeling what kind of an emotion at the different parts of the movie or the show. Then go back, replay on Netflix, watch it again, and see how close you were.

That’s a great training mechanism for forcing yourself to start tuning in to the nonverbals. Then after you do that for a while, you’ll find yourself walking into a meeting and lo and behold, you’re paying attention to who’s glaring at whom, who’s starting to feel bored with which subjects, who’s excited by which subjects and that is rich Intel to know those kinds of things. That’s a tuning piece.

Then the empathizing piece, the driving question there is not ‘what is my speaker saying,’ but ‘how is my speaker feeling.’ How does the speaker feel? I think one of the best ways to train ourselves to do this and simultaneously show people that we’re doing this is paraphrasing back both the content and the emotions that we think we’re hearing.

This is when we kind of say, “Well, okay, this is what I’m getting. This is what I think I heard you say,” or “Correct me if I’m wrong, this is what I heard.” When I say back what I heard, it’s like, “I think you’re really frustrated about blah, blah, blah, blah.” I’ve captured frustrated, the emotional tone, as well as the content. That makes the person that you’re talking to just feel so heard, so listened to.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious with regards to when you identify an emotion, what’s the downside risk of if you’re wrong. If you said, “It seems like you’re frustrated.” He’s like, “No, I’m not frustrated. I’m just resigned because I don’t care anymore. Nothing I do makes any impact whatsoever.” I guess those are kind of close, frustrated and resigned.

But … “No, I’m enraged, Brenda. I’m not frustrated.” I guess that’s just very frustrated is enraged. I mean, “No Brenda, I’m very sad actually.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, yeah. But that’s great that they would say that because then you have had – because you would have left thinking frustrated.

Then you find out by clarifying, “Oh no, it’s resigned. Oh. Well, I have different things to say to you now that I know you’re just feeling defeated and resigned and depleted by this. I thought you were still frustrated and agitated, but no, you’re in a different space,” and that’s important to me because how I’m going to reach you when you’re resigned is pretty different than how I would reach you if you’re irritated, agitated, frustrated or enraged or sad.

I think that moment of clarification is perfectly fine. It’s not as if you failed in the guessing game. It’s you won because you threw it out there, you got some feedback that you’d missed it just slightly and so now you are on board. Once again, engaging in that process of “Here’s what I think,” “Oh no. Oh, it’s this. Oh, thank you. Okay, I get it. Yes. Resigned, I could see myself feeling that too.”

That, again, allows you to wrap your speaker in this wonderful blanket of comfort and of knowing because I heard you.

Pete Mockaitis
As I imagine this fictitious conversation, I think the guessing game, if you will, if you get it wrong, I think you’re still winning points in that it shows that you cared enough to take a stab at it and the other person says, “You know? This person seems to give a darn about my feelings. Even though they’re wrong, I appreciate that because a lot of people don’t bother to take the time.”

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Right, so often the listening response is autobiographical. “Well, yeah, when that happened to me, I felt blah, blah, blah, blah.” Now I’ve coopted the whole conversation and made it about me. That is a response we’re so accustomed to hearing that if you’ve stayed with me, you’ve kept the focus on me, even if you got it wrong just a little bit, it’s still about me, so I’m still feeling pretty treasured at the end of the day.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. I like that. Well, Brenda, could you share as we’re kind of approaching the end, are there any sort of top do’s, don’ts favorite phrases or scripts that are super handy when it comes to listening?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Oh yeah. Let’s see. I think that one of the top do’s is getting rid of distractions. Put your phone down. Show those nonverbal attentive listening skills. We all know what they are. We know them when someone does it for us. They nod, they lean in, they make eye contact, the verbal encouragers that we talked about.

When we do that, the person talking feels heard and our own minds kind of follow the body, like, okay, my body is tuned in to this person, so I guess my mind says, “Okay, I’ll tune in too.” I think being non-verbally attentive, showing really good nonverbal listening behaviors can certainly enhance our listening and how well the other person feels. That I think is a great piece.

I love Marshall Goldsmith’s article, Listening is the One Skill That Separates. He talks about make the other person feel as though she’s the only person in the room. When we can do that at a meeting and a coaching a session and whatever, wow, that is great listening right there.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other key phrases that you think are super handy?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Key phrases. Well, for appropriate responses, trying to stay out of the autobiographical and instead practice the paraphrasing. If we can say back what we’ve heard, I think that’s a key phrase in our listening, being careful with it of course.

When I first learned about paraphrasing, I decided I’m going to paraphrase everything everybody says for a while. I came home that night after my listening workshop and my husband said, “Hey, it’s about dinner time. It’s a little after six.” I said, “So I hear you expressing a curiosity about the time.” He’s like, “What is happening?” So paraphrasing appropriately, not just parroting someone, but really trying to put our best understanding into it. I think those are great phrases to use as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, lovely. Well, now I’d love to hear about your favorite things once again, maybe there’s some new things.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, but I’m going to do a listening one. Let’s do – what’s my favorite listening quote? You have two ears, one mouth. There’s a reason; act like it.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Two ears, one mouth. There you go.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Dale Goleman and Richard Davidson, it was October 2017 Behavioral Scientist article on mindfulness practices. It’s the one where they talk about eight minutes of mindfulness practice will cause less mind wandering. If you do that eight minutes for two weeks, the mind wandering stops so much that you have better focus, you have more working memory, people’s GRE scores were even going up.

I think that’s a great piece of research to link back to our listening that if we can just practice eight minutes of sort of meditative mindfulness – I try to practice my eight minutes in the afternoon. I remember Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, one time saying that she practiced eight minutes of mindfulness in the afternoons that a purist might call it a nap, but for her, she was calling it mindfulness. I love that.

My eight minutes of napping or mindfulness, whatever you want. But I do think that that practice stops the mind from wandering and when we teach our minds to focus, then we become better listeners. That’s a great piece of research for so many different reasons. Goleman and Davidson.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. How about a favorite book?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Again, let’s do a listening book. No judging here, but my favorite listening book right now is called I Have a Little Problem Said the Bear. It’s Amelia Hardman, so you can get this for your son. It’s about the little bear who goes around trying to tell people about his problem, but everybody is so set on fixing it and advising him and coaching him that he never really gets to talk about his problem.

I actually purchased this little children’s book and give it to a lot of the managers that I coach on how to be good coaches because as soon as we move into telling other people to do it, we’ve stepped out of coaching mode.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. It’s funny when you said ‘no judgment here’ I was like that’s a good name for a listening book.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
No, I was just warning you. Don’t judge that my favorite book right now is a kid’s book.

Pete Mockaitis
No, that’s totally fine, totally fine. And a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty-day listening action plan. I schedule out 30 days. I look at a meeting or an event or something on my calendar for 30 straight days and make a notation in my digital calendar so that when I see the event I also see my note about my listening habit.

Last month I was working on paraphrasing. Right next to it for 30 different appointments on 30 different days it said ‘paraphrasing,’ just as my reminder. The month before that I was working on not interrupting, so for 30 straight days I found an appointment or an engagement or a conversation on my calendar where I really wanted to practice that skill. Thirty-day listening habits, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s clever. Very good. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with listeners, readers, clients, learners?

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yeah, it’s that Goldsmith quote, “Make the other person feel that they’re the only one in the room.” That really resonates with people. People will come back to me and mention that years after we’ve had a coaching conversation around listening.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Hit me up on LinkedIn. Follow me on LinkedIn. I would love to have conversations on LinkedIn about listening and whatever else is on your mind.

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes, 30-day challenge. Do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Do it. All right.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Thirty days of listening. Put it on your calendars. Come up with one skill, a listening skill that you think you want to improve and go after it for 30 straight days. You’ll be awesome at your job when you’re done.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Well, Brenda, this has been a good time once again. Thanks for sharing the goods and I hope you have many excellent conversations you enjoy listening to and that you just keep on doing what you’re doing. It’s a real treat.

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You too, Pete. Thank you so much for having me back.