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724: How to Master Your Executive Presence with Muriel Wilkins

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Muriel Wilkins says: "Executive presence is really about how others experience you."

Muriel Wilkins dispels myths surrounding executive presence and shows you how you can develop your own, no matter what your role is.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What executive presence really means 
  2. The two muscles you need to train for executive presence
  3. The key factors that affect your confidence 

About Muriel

Muriel Maignan Wilkins, Managing Partner and Co-founder of Paravis Partners is a C-suite advisor and executive coach with a strong track record of helping already high performing senior leaders take their effectiveness to the next level. Muriel is the host of the Harvard Business Review podcast, “Coaching Real Leaders” and is the co-author, with Amy Su, of “Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence”. 

Resources Mentioned

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Muriel Wilkins Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Muriel, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Muriel Wilkins
Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig in and chat about executive presence. And maybe you could start us off by saying what the heck does that even mean?

Muriel Wilkins
That’s what actually set me on a track to figure out what it means because a lot of people don’t know what it means. It’s a term that’s used so broadly and loosely, and it’s a term where many of my clients, my coaching clients were getting feedback on their executive presence. And, quite frankly, when I would ask, “Well, what does it mean?” They’re like, “I have no idea.”

So, from my perspective, and based on the work that I’ve done with folks and my research on it, executive presence is really about how others experience you. And, more specifically, when I think about it from a leadership presence, is when others are in your presence, do they feel like they’re in the presence of a leader? And that has nothing to do with where you sit hierarchically in the organization. It all has to do with what you exude.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And so, I can see how that really is frustrating for the individual, it’s like, “I don’t know.”

Muriel Wilkins
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
“It’s like based on someone else’s perception of me.”

Muriel Wilkins
Exactly. And even worse, it’s like, “Well, I don’t know, but Joe has it.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but you’re not Joe.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. So, that sets the vibe. It’s like, “If someone has executive presence, and I’m in the presence of someone with executive presence, I feel like, wow, I’m with a leader.” Okay. Well, then I’m curious, you tell me, is it like you either got it or you don’t? And what if you don’t, what do you do?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, that in itself is sort of demoralizing as a follow-up to getting feedback on executive presence. It’s like, “You need to work on this.” But, you know, can you really work on it because you’re either born with it or you’re not? And if there’s one thing that I’ve tried to do around this topic of executive presence is really debunk the myth that it’s just something that you naturally have. It’s something that you could definitely build and develop over time. The key is developing a presence that is also authentic to you because it’s not mimicking everyone else. It’s about having an impact in a way that’s relevant to others while still maintaining a sense of who you are and what you bring to the table in your own authenticity so that you’re not a chameleon.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got you. So, that sounds super. Let’s maybe dig into maybe the particular components and approaches to make that transition happen well. But maybe could you start by sharing an inspiring story of someone who got the word, “Hey, you need better executive presence,” and then what they did and the results that happened from that turnaround?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Well, I’ll share my own story because I was the receiver of that feedback way back when, and the feedback that I got was that I needed to tone it down.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Muriel Wilkins
And it was like, “Okay, what does that mean? My volume sounds just fine.” But what they were talking about was, again, my presence was not one that was with those particular stakeholders, one that really exuded the position that I had as an executive and as a leader at that time. And so, that is something that I think many people have experienced, whether it’s, “You need to tone it down,” or whether, “You need to be more confident.”

You often hear it in terms of adjectives, “Be more this,” “Be more inspiring,” “Be more assertive.” And the fact of the matter is that, just as I described with your presence, it’s the feeling that you give somebody. An adjective is not a verb so it doesn’t really give the concrete steps of what you’re able to do. I often say, if somebody has received feedback of “Be more confident,” it’s not like you wake up one day and say, “Well, today I decide not to be confident.” Like, everybody wants to show up as confident.

So, when we think about executive presence and what are the steps to really get there, the first place is to recognize, “What is the impact that you want to make? What is the impression or the feeling that you want to leave people with?” And when you think about what the impression is, or the impact, that a leader or an executive or somebody that you want to “follow” has on you, it’s usually two things, the combination of two things: they are credible and they’re relatable.

And so, the intersection of those two things is actually what makes up or what makes you feel like somebody has executive presence because they have that impact on you. And so, the first place to start is understanding that those are the two levers that you have, and then determining, of those two levers, “Which one am I exuding and which one am I not? Or am I exuding both? Or am I not exuding any of them?” So, it starts with some self-awareness around what the impact is that you’re actually having. Because if you can figure that out, that it’s either the credibility or the relatability, then you can figure out “Well, what do I do about each of those muscles?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I love that a lot. And in terms of that first step, I think it’s easy to skip over, like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, give me some tactics, Muriel.” But, no, no, it is so foundational because I guess I think I’ve made my own mistakes with this in terms of any types of presenting of yourself, like I think I’ve had headshots done, and I’ve made the mistake before. I picked a headshot, it’s like, “Ooh, I look really hot in that one. I think that’s the best photo to go with it.” It’s like, “You might look like the most aesthetically pleasing, in your opinion, Pete, but actually that’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here in terms of the target demographic and audience and impression that we’re sending.” Like, these aren’t modeling headshots. These are for a speaking agency to get me booked to do keynotes.

And, likewise, that comes up in LinkedIn in terms of it’s like, “In your profile and your picture, how do you want to present those elements and the headlines and the experiences because there’s a variety of flavors you could take?” Like, if you’re trying to represent yourself as a model or a standup comedian, that’s going to have a different vibe than if you’re trying to do this executive presence thing. And you’re seeing, when it comes to executive presence in professional workplace environments, generally what we’re after is conveying credible and relatable. So, it’s awesome.

Muriel Wilkins
That’s right. And it also goes beyond the professional workplace. If you think about your friends, or the people you associate with, or your family, or your partner, yeah, I don’t know about you, but I want my partner to be credible and relatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure, yeah.

Muriel Wilkins
So, it really also just becomes around what do we tend to look for as humans in others that gives us a sense that we can be confident in them, and that we have some type of connection to them? And so, those are why they end up being the two muscles.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then in practice, what are some key do’s and don’ts to convey all the more credibility and relatability?

Muriel Wilkins
So, the way that I tend to think about it is almost like conditioning an athlete. When you think about an athlete who conditions themselves in their preferred sport or their sport of choice, they’re a master at that sport. They have to be conditioned at three levels. They have to be conditioned from a mental standpoint, they have to be conditioned from a skills standpoint, the skill of that particular sport, and they have to be conditioned physically for the sport that they’re playing or competing in.

Likewise, when you’re trying to really master and train these muscles of credibility and relatability, again, mastering your leadership presence, you also have to condition yourself at those three levels. And so, what are those? So, the first place is your mental conditioning. Well, what’s our mental conditioning when we think about our presence? It’s the beliefs that you have. It’s the thoughts and the assumptions that you have about yourself, about the other, about the situation.

And understanding what those are, and with no judgment of “Is it a right thought or a wrong thought?” this is not like “The Power of Positive Thinking.” It’s more around, “Is that belief actually serving you in showing up as credible and relatable?” So, if I don’t have conviction around my message – and conviction is just a belief, I believe in my message, I believe in what I’m saying, or I have knowledge about what I’m saying – then how in the heck am I going to show up as credible in what I have to say?

So, the first level is mental conditioning, and I’ll tell you, Pete, that’s the hardest one for people to get their head wrapped around because a lot of times it is about them dismantling the beliefs that they’ve had for an eternity. So, that’s the first one. The second level of conditioning is skill conditioning. And in our game of executive presence, that’s your communication skills. And so, what are the communication skills that allow you to show up, again, credible and relatable? It’s quite simple.

From a credibility standpoint, the communication skill is your ability to speak in a clear and concise way. Rambling does not define credibility. And on the relatability side, the key communication skill is the skill of being able to listen so that you can understand where the other is coming from. Understanding creates connection. And in between those two, we have the skill of how you frame your message and also how you handle questions both in terms of how you ask them and how you answer them. So, with my clients, we work on those four buckets. I try to simplify. You don’t have to know all. You don’t know how to use every golf club in the bag. You just need to learn how to use a few of them.

And then the last piece is your physical conditioning. And physical conditioning is your nonverbals, your body language, your appearance, even your visibility and what message that sends across. And, again, I’m not one to say, “Here are the five great body language postures that you need to hold for you to show up as a leader.” What it really comes down to is, “Is there alignment between the way you are holding yourself nonverbally, or what you’re communicating nonverbally? Is there alignment between that and what you say and your assumptions?”

And so, we’re looking for alignment along all three of those conditioning levels, and that they’re not working against each other, and that they’re also not working against your desired outcome of being credible and relatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, Muriel, this is so powerful in terms of, okay, we’ve got the set of things to be working on. And the athlete analogy is swell. So, let’s talk about the mental and the skill and the physical components of conditioning. I’m thinking when you said with beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions, not about good or bad, right or wrong, but rather is it serving you? Is it helpful? Is it working out for you?

And you mentioned sort of the beliefs in the message, like you fundamentally buy what you’re selling. And I think this is probably universally true, it’s like I just cannot sell something I don’t believe in. I’ve turned down a lot of prospective sponsors. I turned down a lot of them.

Muriel Wilkins

I hear you.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, there’s that. And then I’m thinking there’s also some beliefs, thoughts, assumptions about sort of you, yourself, what other people think of you, like, “Oh, everyone is looking at me. Oh, they think I’m stupid or they don’t think I’m senior enough to be in this room. They think I’m a loser. They think I’m stuttering. They think I’m saying like or so and you know too much.” So, it seems like there’s a whole host of potential beliefs, thoughts, assumptions that can be not serving you. Tell me, are there some go-to beliefs that you find helpful, reassuring, confidence-boosting? And how do we condition ourselves to land there instead of the unhelpful places?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, absolutely. So, a big one in terms of when you’re trying to boost your confidence, as you said, is around the belief that you don’t have to always have the answer, and that you are in the room to share the value, and you have to understand what it is the value that you bring to that table, and that the value isn’t always – and most times it’s not – about having the answer and knowing everything and being an expert on everything.

And so, when people tend to show up as lacking confidence, they place an expectation on themselves on what it means for them to show up successfully in that meeting or at that table. And what I have them do is recalibrate, “Well, is that even realistic? What is the value that you bring? Why are you in that meeting?” And when they’re able to define it and then actually stay in their lane in terms of what they’re able to do, they can have confidence in it because they know exactly what they’re there to do. So, that’s one example.

On the flipside, if somebody is working on the relatability aspect, the belief that often gets in the way is, “I already know the answer,” which then shuts them down from listening. And so, the belief that would serve them better in terms of showing up in a more connected way and a more relatable way is to come in with the thought of “I have a perspective around what needs to be done and I’m open to hearing others’ perspectives.” So, it’s a slight reframe. It’s a slight reframe.

And it doesn’t mean that, if you’ll notice, it doesn’t mean that you’re disregarding that you have the answer. Like, I’m not going to lie. Yeah, you probably do but let’s expand that a little bit. Let’s open the possibilities a little bit. When people stay too attached to their belief, it creates constriction, it creates closedness both in terms of what you have to offer, what gets in the way of confidence, as well as what you are open to from others, which then creates a disconnection.

So, all I try to do is get them to see that there are different ways that they can think about, again, themselves, the situation, or the other, that might then open them up to different ways of communicating or physically showing up.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And so then, once you know and have heard the belief once, you’re like, “Okay, yes, Muriel. That sounds like good, fine, and solid lead. That is true.”

Muriel Wilkins
“I wish it was that easy.”

Pete Mockaitis
“I would like to land upon and return to again and again.” But how do you condition, train, reinforce, lock in those neural pathways so that that’s where we go?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Look, this is like, if we boil it down, this is what most people have, again, a very difficult time with. It takes practice. This is what we’re talking about here is mental discipline. And so, I try to get folks to just really focus on one at a time. Let’s hone in on one and they just practice it, they practice it, they practice it. And I try to get them to practice it in real situations, so not just thinking about it conceptually, because everybody can do something conceptually. I can speak conceptually about how I can do the Iron Man but it’s very different to actually go do the Iron Man.

And so, I get them to practice it, practice it, practice it, until it becomes more natural. And when they start seeing that their actions, because, again, it’s not just the mental, it’s also the skills and communication and the physical, when the skill conditioning and the physical conditioning reinforces those beliefs, then it helps, so it kind of creates a cycle. It’s holistic rather than just “Oh, I only need to do one thing and not the other.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so then, when you say practice it, as I was thinking about the athlete analogy again, I can imagine practicing free throws, or throwing the football, or conditioning strength, bench press, squat, deadlift in the weight room, what does practicing a belief look, sound, feel like in practice? What am I doing when I’m practicing a belief?

Muriel Wilkins
So, at a very practical level, let’s say I’m coming on to this show with you, and I can pause for 30 seconds beforehand and say, and really pause and ask myself, “What am I thinking about what I’m about to go into? What do I think about me? Like, let me really try to understand what my beliefs are going in, about myself? Do I believe I’m going to mess up? Do I believe I’m not prepared? Do I believe I don’t know what this is about? What do I believe about the show? What do I believe about Pete? What do I believe about what’s going on around me?”

And if I conclude that those things are not going to help me show up on this show in a way that is credible and relatable, then I say, “Okay, like what thoughts do I need to focus on right now? Let me put…It’s not that those things might not be true, but let me put them on the backburner for a little bit. I can come back.” So, the way that I’ll do it, I’ll just say this to my clients, is just say, “Hey, you know what, negative belief or belief that doesn’t serve you, I’ll check back in with you in 30 minutes and we’ll deal with you, but you just stay over there right now and let me focus on the ones that help, okay?”

So, it truly is around being able to pause, having awareness around what you’re thinking, and then being able to redefine the thought. It’s a three-step process. It is not easy, Pete. Like, this is, again, the stuff around mental discipline, and it’s hard because it’s inside of us. It doesn’t operate outside of us. But it’s what creates, from my standpoint, it’s what makes the most sustainable impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Thank you. Well, I appreciate you zooming in there, and that is handy in terms of making sure that you do have time for that silence as opposed to, “Oh, go, go, go, finish up, finish up the last words and the last deck, page, slide, and the last seconds, and then grab the laptop and head on into the room or the Zoom call,” or whatever.

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. And, you know, the funny thing, Pete, is like most people will say, “Well, I don’t have time for that.” Like, it doesn’t take a ton of time. Like, we just did it in 30 seconds, in a minute. It does not take a ton of time. So, I’ll tell my clients, like, “Well, as you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, kind of go through the meetings that you have that day?” Well, people aren’t commuting these days, but as they commute, as you’re walking the dog, the day before, go through your Outlook calendar, whatever calendar you use, what are the meetings, and just do a quick mental check around what you’re thinking going in versus it’s the warmup. I consider it the warmup.

You don’t wait till you’re on the field to look around and say, “Oh, who am I dealing with? Who am I playing against? What position do I play?” No, you do that. But that whole warmup happens way before you’re on the field.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said. Well said. All right, so that’s the mental game, a core piece of it. And how about we talk about communication skills? We could spend hours talking about these core skills. I’m curious, do you have any particular tips, tricks, tools, tactics, or do’s and don’ts that make all the difference when it comes to listening or speaking clearly and concisely?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. So, with listening, speaking clearly and concisely, framing, questioning, here’s the thing. These are not about just, “Hey, I just need to know these skills,” because, quite frankly, most people are already using them. The question is, “Are you using them in a strategic way? Are you clear around what it is, again, the impact you’re trying to make?” And given the impact you’re trying to make, then being able to dial back and say, “If that’s the impact that I’m trying to make, then what communication skill would increase the probability that I’m making that impact?”

And so, when you start thinking about it that way, so then you have a choice around what you’re doing rather than just being on default. You say, “All right, if I’m trying to create a connection with the other person, or with this group of people, or I want to come off as engaging, then it would behoove me to listen more.” Why? Because when somebody feels heard and understood, for whatever reason, it creates connection. When we feel understood by the other, it deepens the connection.

And I’m not talking about like we have to get into a deep intimate relationship with everybody. It’s just a feeling of like, “Yeah, you get me.” But when you have somebody, you’ve probably experienced it, when you’re faced with somebody, and you’re like, “Oh, my God, they don’t get me at all,” there is no relatability, there’s no connection.

So, listening is the key skill, I’m sure there are others, but the core skill. And it’s not…there are different levels of listening. You don’t have to go to the deepest level every single time. Again, it depends on what you’re trying to do. But I will say, if your goal is to influence or inspire somebody, the more you’re trying to inspire others, the deeper the level of listening you have to go into, to really understand what is going on with them.

On the flipside, which is the skill of what we call structured efficacy, the skill of being able to speak clear and concisely, what I tell folks is always start with the headline first, and then drill down to the data. Most people who cannot speak confidently will tend to share all of the data and then they give you the conclusion or the answer 20 minutes later. And I try to get them to flip that, “Give me the answer, give me the headline, and then give me the three supporting facts or datapoints or rationale that support your thesis, let’s say, or your headline.”

Because it’s kind of silly to say, “I have three points,” but then you go on to number 20. So, that in and of itself helps one be concise. So, those are some tips around those two. And to be honest, the most critical one is the communication skill or framing, because framing is all about how you set context, and context helps determine whether you can get other individuals to interpret the message that you are giving in a way that’s similar to how you want them to interpret it.

Left without context, people are going to interpret the message based on their own beliefs, assumptions, biases, and thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if it’s the most critical, we must talk more about this framing. So, how does one frame well? And can you give us some examples?

Muriel Wilkins
Sure. So, one that people face many, many times is you walk into a meeting and there’s an agenda but there’s not a clear sense of what outcomes you’re looking to drive through in that meeting. So, you have good conversations, you leave the meeting, and it was like, “Hmm, what did we actually accomplish?” And so, a great example of framing is what we call outcomes-driven framing, being able to start your message or your conversation with, “Here are the outcomes that I want to drive to. I’m going into a meeting, all right. So, what we’re trying to drive to by the end of this meeting is making a decision on X.”

Now why is that helpful? Because everybody in that meeting at that point, or increases the chances that everybody in the meeting at that point will interpret or take in the discussion with a sense that there’s a decision that needs to be made rather than they’re taking it in as an FYI, they’re taking it in as a point of contention, they’re taking it in as whatever, the list goes on.

So, framing from an outcomes standpoint really helps. What’s another example of framing? Another example of framing is what we call strategic framing. This is when you give strategic context, or bigger-picture context, or the 30,000-foot altitude context. Where is this particularly helpful? It’s helpful when you are communicating up, communicating to people who are more senior than you. So, you frame your message in a way that’s relevant to them and what their strategic agenda is rather than how it’s relevant to you at the 10,000-foot altitude.

Pete Mockaitis
And can you give us an example of that in practice in terms of, “Okay, there’s a thing I want to make happen, and I got to give some strategic framing so higher up folk engage and want to back it”?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah, let’s say that you work in the HR function and you’re proposing an initiative around leadership development. So, framing it from your context might sound something like, “Leadership development is really helpful in terms of cultivating people and creating engagement in the workforce,” and then give whatever the initiative is.

Framing it from a strategic level is saying, “I know one of our key strategic pillars this year is talent excellence and retention of our employees. We’ve talked about how, by the end of next year, we want to achieve a workforce of X numbers,” whatever it is. It’s tied to the strategic pillars of the organization or the main business priorities of the organization, and so you start there. And then say, “So, therefore, this leadership development program or initiative is in support of that.” So, you tie it directly to whatever the organizational objectives are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s super. And I’m thinking that some organizations have maybe – if I may be so bold – too many organizational objectives that the higher up you’re communicating with may well have forgotten that that was one of the strategic initiatives, they’re like, “Oh, that is one of them, isn’t it? And you got something for me to make that happen. Oh, and I don’t know of anything else that’s making that happen. So, yeah, let’s go ahead and do what you’re saying, Muriel.”

Muriel Wilkins
That brings such a funny story, Pete, because I ran into that once, and I framed it strategically around what the top brass of the organization had said was important for them, and they’re kind of like, “Huh? No.” And I said, “Well, look at the homepage of your website. Like, it says it right there.” So, they all pulled it up on their phone, and they’re like, “Oh, wow. Like, yeah, we actually said this was one of our strategic priorities.” So, to your point, sometimes they forget what the priorities are.

Pete Mockaitis
And then that just makes you wonder how much of the priority is it truly, and how much of it was sort of a word salad committee production versus a, “Wow, we’ve really thoughtfully clarified and drilled down into that which is the huge most impactful leverage.” Well, that’s a whole another conversation, strategic critical thinking priority matters.

Let’s hear about the physical view of things – the nonverbals, the body language, the appearance. So, we want to have alignment so it’s not sort of contradictory throughout. And I guess everyone have their own tics that they have, and maybe I’ve heard videos is a great way to assess them. I’m curious, are there any particular things you’ve seen again and again and again in terms of, “Hey, start doing this. Stop doing that,” that makes all the difference and it’s so easy to fix?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. Well, first of all, I think, again, it depends what it is the impact that you’re trying to make. One of the things I tell my clients is, “Look, if the feedback you’re getting is that you show up as abrasive, and when you asked, ‘Well, why do I show up as abrasive?’ people are like, ‘Well, you tend to yell a lot and you always have a scowl on your face.’’ If I say that to a client, the client says, “Well, I want to show up as abrasive,” well, then we’re done, we’re good, because their nonverbals are giving them the outcomes they want.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, mission accomplished.

Muriel Wilkins
Right, mission accomplished.

Pete Mockaitis
Apparently.

Muriel Wilkins
But usually that’s not what people want. Again, they want to show up as credible or engaging and relatable. And so, from a nonverbal standpoint, the place to first start is, “What is under my control?” which I am. I’m 5’3”. I cannot change that. I might add a little bit of height by wearing heels but out of my control that I’m 5’3”. So, if I want to give the impression that I’m confident and height is not on my side, because for whatever reason, height might make me seem a little more dominant or whatnot, so what else is at my disposal?

Well, how I sit at the table, when I physically sit at the table. Do I shrink to the back of my seat? Do I slouch back, therefore, retreating me even more? Or, do I actually lean forward on the table, pull up my chair to the table? I’ve been known to, if I walk into a meeting and the   is too low and makes me seem even lower than my 5’3” size, then I raise it to maximum height. So, these are things that are under your control and, quite frankly, it’s not just about the impression you make on the other. It’s also how it makes me feel. I don’t want to feel small at that table.

The other part is your voice. And so, your voice says a lot about you. Number one, you want to be heard in that meeting. Well, we better be able to hear you from a projection standpoint. I have twins, by the way. They’re 14 years old and so I’m constantly in this, “I can’t hear you. You’re mumbling.” Mumbling will never get your message across. And so, even from that basic level with your voice, “Do you have some poise around your voice?” Well, what does that sound like? It usually sounds with people who are comfortable, taking pauses as they speak. They speak much more in a deliberate way rather than just speeding through it and never slowing down. That’s in your control.

So, with all of these things, whether it’s your eye contact, your gestures, your voice, your posture, it’s not about, again, a right or wrong, which I think is the way that it’s been positioned a lot of times. It’s more around, “Is the way you’re carrying these things, are they going to have the impact that you want to have in this environment, in this context?”

Because take something like eye contact. In the Western culture, eye contact exudes confidence for whatever reason, but in other cultures, it does not. So, it also has to be culturally and contextually relevant. So, executive presence in and of itself is very situational. It’s very dynamic. It’s not this, “Do it this way and that’s it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s say adopting the context specifically of we’re in a professional United States business environment, looking to be credible and relatable and persuasive in what we have to say so that it’s taken seriously and action is taken and things move forward, I’m curious, are there any particular appearance things you might quickly suggest that we adjust?

Muriel Wilkins
Yeah. So, here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to appearance, let it not be distracting and detracting from every other thing that you’re doing. That’s it. I have many people who ask me things like, “Should I cut my hair? Should I cut my beard? Should I not wear braids? Should I straighten my hair and not have my hair curly? Should I dress a different way? Should I wear suits? Should I wear pants? Should I…?” and the list goes on and on and on.

And I say, “Okay, in the environment that you’re in, would your appearance distract in any way?” So, I share the story around with me, I have clients all along the spectrum. I have some organizations that I work with who are extremely conservative, very traditional. And then I have clients where I have some nonprofits that I work with that are, in the inner city, small. If I were to go to my small nonprofits dressed the same way that I go to my traditional conservative clients, it’s not that the way I’m dressing is bad. It just would make me stand out in a way that then maybe makes me feel confident but doesn’t necessarily create or engender any form of connection with the clients that I’m serving.

So, it truly is about to what extent is the physical energy that you exude distracting or detracting from what you’re trying to do versus supporting you? So, that’s the same we do with beliefs.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I’m curious, and this might be maybe more of an advanced move, are there times in which we do want to look a little different and distinctive from the audience in the room for a particular objective? What are your thoughts there?

Muriel Wilkins
Yes. So, let me back up a little bit from that question, because the goal is not, “Hey, I need to fit in.” You still want to have, like I talked, I’m not the most traditional conservative person, but I got to have these clients, so what I’m not going to do is wear my most outlandish outfit, but I will wear a suit but I might have some jewelry that’s still a signature me, so I don’t feel like I’m completely “selling out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Muriel Wilkins
But are there times when you may want to stand out a little bit? Yeah, but know why you’re doing it. Know why you’re doing it. So, I’ll give you an example, not just about appearance actually, but more going back to kind of nonverbals. So, if you’re giving a presentation, you may have a choice between standing behind the podium or not using the podium at all.

Well, when somebody asks me, “Should I use the podium? Should I not?” I say, “Well, what impact do you want to make? What impressions do you want to make? If you want to come off as very professorial and expert-like, by all means, stand behind the podium. If you want to show up as like the expert, stand behind the podium. If you want to lean into engaging with the audience, trying to be relatable to the audience, don’t stand behind the podium.”

So, it always comes back to, “What do you want?” And that’s where a lot of people don’t have clarity is even around what is it that they want, how they want to come off.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. Well, Muriel, tell me, anything else you want to make sure we’d mention before we hit the favorite things?

Muriel Wilkins
Well, this stuff, as I said before, takes a lot of practice, and you never really fully stop because your context changes, you change, your assumptions change, your skills, hopefully, improve over time, how you physically show up changes, so you constantly have to think about, “In this moment, at this time, what is the impact I want to make? And then how do I get there?”

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

Muriel Wilkins
The one that’s really been resonating with me over the past couple of months, the past year, quite frankly, has been, and I know it comes from Buddha’s teachings but I can’t quote who said it, is, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”

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

Muriel Wilkins
My favorite one is around growth mindset and the reframing, because I think growth mindset has a lot of reframing, and Angela Duckworth’s work around that, reframing around how we approach learning. And how we approach, quite frankly, how we define success, that it’s more about the effort rather than the outcome.

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

Muriel Wilkins
Favorite book. My favorite book of the moment is The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.

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

Muriel Wilkins
My Outlook calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And a favorite habit?

Muriel Wilkins
Favorite habit. I wish it was a more infused habit, but my favorite habit is meditating.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for and people quote back to you often?

Muriel Wilkins
I say there’s a favorite question that I ask my clients over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Muriel Wilkins
And it is, “What do you want?”

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

Muriel Wilkins
So, they can go check out my podcast at Harvard Business Review called “Coaching Real Leaders,” or go to CoachingRealLeaders.com. They can find more information about me and all of the ways that I work with folks at MurielWilkins.com or ParavisPartners.com.

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

Muriel Wilkins
Figure out what you want and the impression you want to make and the outcomes that you want to drive to, and then work backwards from there.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Muriel, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of success and luck in the adventures to come.

Muriel Wilkins
Thank you. This was great.

648: How to Turn Stage Presence into Screen Presence with Diane DiResta

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Diane DiResta shares expert tips to up your presence in remote meetings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The simple change that dramatically improves your presence 
  2. Cost-efficient tips for improving your audio
  3. Expert tips for engaging your virtual audience 

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 back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, it’s great to have you back. And, boy, yeah, a lot of things have evolved since our last conversation.
Well, so much of your business has now shifted to a whole boatload of virtual meetings, presentations, trainings, interactions. Tell us, how has that shift in experience gone for you?

Diane DiResta
I love the virtual world. Now, what’s interesting is I’d already started virtual coaching before COVID hit because I had some people who were from North Carolina, Canada, Texas. So, what I was doing ideally when I could is either they were coming to New York for the first visit or I was going to them. And then it worked really well virtually. But once COVID hit, it was all virtual.

And I didn’t get any pushback from people. I had one client who I started with in-person, he had one session left, and he didn’t want to do it virtually. And then, finally, he realized this might be a year or so, and he said, “Let me do it.” And so, he realized it’s working really well. So, I’ve done training sessions, speaking engagements, and coaching virtually. I really like it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so you’re a pro and you have made the transition like a pro. Can you share with us any surprises in your own personal experience as you’ve made the transition?

Diane DiResta
Well, the first thing I did immediately is I went for certification so I’m now a certified virtual presenter.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Diane DiResta
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Where does one do that?

Diane DiResta
Through eSpeakers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Oh, that’s right. I have seen that little icon there. Sometimes we recruit guests from eSpeakers because they have a huge database of experts. Pro tip, podcasters.

Diane DiResta
Yes. And so, well, it was important for my credibility. And a big surprise to me was how bad some of these presentations are from people at higher levels. So, the first surprise was I was watching TV and I saw this senator that I had seen many times on the news, who was a spokesperson, who was very media savvy, very good, and I witnessed her first Zoom presentation, and it was like this – side of a face, looking down. She didn’t even know where the camera was, and I’m shocked. Like, how could this happen?

[03:31]

And then someone explained to me, “Well, when you’re in the media at that level, people are doing things for you. You’re talking into a teleprompter, there’s a producer, so they don’t really learn this.” So, I realized there is a market here and people need me. So, I start to rant when I see these kinds of things happening.

I was working with a physician, I was a facilitator or an interviewer for a health summit, a virtual summit. We had a conversation beforehand, we met five minutes before the meeting, and I was shocked, once again, because here he was, in his office, with a ceiling fan, a rotating fan. So, I got rid of that through manipulation of the laptop. But then his backdrop was so messy, there were tons and piles of books and papers and files, and there was nothing I could do.

So, here’s what people need to realize. You are communicating a message, and that messy background interferes. Number one, it’s a distraction to the message but, secondly, it’s communicating another message about your presence. So, there are some people who feel or believe that if they have really good credentials and they have very good content that that’s what counts.

But, no, if you have a mess behind you, you’re communicating sloppiness. So, what does that mean? Is your research sloppy? Is your presentation sloppy? So, it’s really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, boy, there’s so much there in terms of, one, those associations. And I’m reminded of, well, I’ve got that book in my background, Pre-Suasion by Bob Cialdini talking about how we have associations. Like, if a resume is on a heavy clipboard, we sort of associate some weight to it. If you’re given a warm cup of tea, you might have some warmth toward the person who shared that. And so, there are some studies that point to that, and so then how much more so when it’s your entire background, that which is in my field of view as I’m beholding you, is messy. Like, that association will pop up all the more so.

Diane DiResta
Absolutely. So, this is what’s different and this is why I’m helping people translate stage presence into screen presence because the 3D world is very different from the virtual platform. So, one of the things people have to realize is they need to stage themselves. When you go into a meeting in a 3D world, the meeting room is there. You go into a conference room, the overhead lighting is there, the table is there, you don’t do any of that. But when you’re recording from your home or office, home office, you need to change the way that looks, you need to take control, so you become a producer. And the staging is very important, it’s the backdrop, the background.

And so, when I talk about staging, it’s what’s your backdrop. So, you have a few options. One is a screen. I have a room divider and what that allows me to do is hide any mess so that I can be camera-ready in a pinch. And we just had this experience a moment ago. You saw the mess behind me and there was no dial to change the backdrop so I took my screen up. So, that’s the first thing, it’s a physical screen.

Secondly, you can change your backdrop. I use Zoom a lot, and so you can upload your own backdrop. Now, here are some choices. One is, if you want to promote, if you want to communicate your brand, you can create your own. So, what I have is my logo on one side and my book and my Certified Virtual Presenter on the other side, so it’s speaking for me.

But you can have a nice scene, a beach scene, or a mountain scene, and that’s very calming. Or you can have a regular real-world backdrop. So, for instance, if you have a lovely living room or a very calm soothing office, and that’s real, use it, but make sure that it is supporting you, that it supports your brand. So, I would say be mindful and be strategic. What is it that you want to communicate?

Now, let me explain why this can impact you on your job. People take this lightly. When we first came to the virtual platform, post-COVID, people were very casual, they were showing up in their hoodies. But then we got over that because we realized this is here to stay. Well, I had a client who said to me, “Listen, Diane, full disclosure. In the beginning, we hired a vendor and they did four hours of virtual training, and I still don’t like how my team is showing up. They’re too casual. They’re too lax.”

So, I came in and I did a two-hour workshop, and one of the things we did is staging. And so, they learned how to center, they learned about lighting, they learned about backdrops, they learned about anything that would distract. So, what was fun is I had them look at still pictures of people in a frame and they had to critique it.

And then I had them do it on each other. So, I’d call on someone, I say, “All right, Pete, we’re going to have someone else look at you. So, Joe, take a look at Pete right now. What would you say about him if you were coaching him on his backdrop, on his staging?” and it was very enlightening for them, and they realized that, “Oh, this is about presence.” It affects your executive presence, so your screen presence can’t be lax.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, absolutely. And I feel that in many regards in terms of visually as well as auditorily. Before I go there, since that’s a whole other ball of wax, I love that technique there associated with having peers review each other because they…and sometimes they may have something they’ve been wanting to say for months, “That thing has been annoying me…”

Diane DiResta
Well, we don’t do it that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. I’m sure it’s constructive and uplifting and positive and useful and so forth. So, that’s great right there in terms of a great way to get feedback because I think, a lot of times, we don’t even see that stuff because we’re just so accustomed to it. Sometimes I don’t even see my own mess in the house if it’s been there for a long time, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I guess there’s no reason whatsoever for that thing to be hanging out there.” But someone else coming in will say, if we’re good friends, like, “What’s up with that random thing shoved in the corner?”

Diane DiResta
Exactly. Well, I had another client and I had done a similar workshop for them, and then they got a new CEO, and the HR person contacted me and said, “Listen, I want you to talk to his assistant because the way he’s showing up, he really needs your training.” So, I worked with him and he said, “You talk away. Tell me what I need. I don’t have the equipment. I don’t know about my backdrop.” And he had a backdrop that he created, and I said, “No, that doesn’t work for you. Let’s come up with something else.” And, afterwards, the next day, or the next week, his assistant called me and said, “Wow, I really see a difference.” So, it really is skill-based. People don’t know, a lot of times, what they need to do and they don’t know how they’re coming across. And so, that’s where I come in.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And, actually, to also follow up on the point you brought up at the beginning, it’s skill-based. And if you are senior, you may very well have people that are handling all things for you, and so you need that skill and it could really be a blind spot. So, great that we’re shining a spotlight on that right now. But, now, I got to hear, if this person made the time to construct their own background but it wasn’t working for them, what makes a background bad?

Diane DiResta
Well, here’s the thing. He didn’t construct it, it was one of those backgrounds that you can download, and it looked like it had flipcharts on the floor, and I said, “It doesn’t look right. Let’s take it out.” In fact, when he had no backdrop and he was in a regular office, that actually looked better. So, he just needed the feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure. Okay. So, yes, there could be any number of reasons why something doesn’t fit. And maybe flipcharts on the floor, I don’t know, if you’re a design-thinking coach, it might be perfect, like, “Oh, that really gives me a creative space.”

Diane DiResta
Yes, but not for CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Diane DiResta
It did not communicate his brand and his level. So, again, I tell people, “Be strategic. How do you want to be perceived? Because you have the power, you have the control over how people are going to perceive you by how you show up.” And we all know the studies about the visual and the impact and it takes seven seconds or less to make a first impression. And, boom, as soon as you turn on the camera, they see that and that’s their first impression, so make it positive. Make it powerful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we talked about sort of the visual components here. I’d love to talk about audio, and I’m going to try not to dork out too hard here because I’m pretty intense about this. Well, Diane, you’ve seen the booking process. The choices are, “Are you going to be in a professional studio or should I send you a headset?” Those are the only two choices.

And you can debate what constitutes professional in terms of audio, but that is my experience, that if something is unpleasant to hear, well, one, there’s those associations again. It’s like, “Hmm, I just don’t like the feeling of you talking.” Like, you don’t want that associated with you just because of a bad microphone.

Diane DiResta
True.

Pete Mockaitis
And, two, I’ve got hard data from podcast listeners. Bad or even a little bit worse than mediocre, so like maybe slightly disappointing audio quality, results in lower engagement. People just tune out and stop listening earlier – I’ve got hard numbers on this – when the sound is lame. So, tell us, how do we make sound not lame?

Diane DiResta
Well, you’re exactly right. If you have to air, people will forgive you, let’s say, on YouTube if your lighting isn’t great but not the audio. The audio is really key. So, how do you make your sound good? The first thing is the worst kind of sound is when you talk directly to the computer because it sounds tinny. And I know when I see these new shows and they bring in experts and they’re talking to their computers; it’s irritating for me to listen to.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, do you mean the computer’s internal microphone, talking to the computer?

Diane DiResta
Yes. In other words, you don’t have any external mic. You’re just talking to the internal mic and it’s tinny. It’s not the best quality. So, at the very lowest level, put in some earbuds. I’ve used them, they work really well. Get an external mic. The Yeti is one of the top-level mics. And, again, when you have microphones and you test them, it’ll be much more effective. You can also use a headset, and Logitech is a good brand. I actually was on a very high-level podcast, and this podcast host required a certain headset.

Pete Mockaitis
John Lee Dumas, the Logitech H390.

Diane DiResta
Yes. Yes. Yes. Entrepreneurs on Fire. It’s John Lee Dumas, yes, and he actually tells you which one to get. And I got it. And I don’t use it that often because, it was interesting, in my network group today, a question came up, “What about headsets and executive presence?” And I thought about it and said, “You know, it depends on your level. I would not recommend someone at a high level, at the senior level, to be wearing a headset. It just doesn’t look like an executive. But, at other levels, it’s appropriate. It really depends on the venue, the culture of your company.” But headsets are good because they have the built-in mic, you don’t have to worry about anything. It’s all there. So, it depends on what you like. If you’re a podcaster, headsets are the best. Usually the best choice.

[15:50]

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s sort of like, in our world, so we send headsets to guests because, it’s like, “Hey, we’re only recording the audio so it doesn’t matter to listeners what you look like and it doesn’t matter to me.” You look great with your backdrop there. That’s really lovely.

Diane DiResta
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I think that’s great. I will make a shoutout. We’ve spent dozens of hours testing many, many headsets and we love the Sennheiser or IMPACT EPOS SC30 or 60 in terms of bang for the buck, in terms of mic quality. Not the most comfortable or durable or best headphones, but, darn it, for a great-sounding mic at a great price, that’s, I think, the best game in town.

And I got to comment on the Yeti, and I think the key to using that well, and please chime in, Diane, if you’ve got some perspectives on this, is that you want to set it to the cardioid pickup pattern and speak pretty close to it and have enough stuff in the room so it’s not super echoey because I’ve seen a Yeti in a closet is a dream come true, a yeti in an empty room is echoey and unpleasant.

Diane DiResta
Yes, there is the acoustics factor and there are certain microphones that are unidimensional or multidimensional, and you need to know which they are so that you can speak differently. So, there are certain microphones where you speak right to the head, and there are others that are standup and you speak to the side of the mic, depending on which kind of microphone it is.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. So, I think that’s great. And that notion of just stepping into your thought process is excellent in terms of thinking about the headset and the presence and the impression that that gives. I can totally see what you’re saying with regard to if you are a CEO or a senior executive, a headset kind of makes you think call center, like, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t feel quite right.”

But then, again, if you are an analyst, I’m thinking about like with Jack Bauer, CTU, the 24 TV series, like CIA analysts who are like fighting terrorism and using computers and being brilliant at them. That can kind of fit in terms of, “Oh, look at you. You’re a hardcore and you don’t have time to waste. You’re going to be clear and get right back to coming up with brilliant insights from your analysis.”

Diane DiResta
It goes back to your style, the culture, what you’re trying to communicate.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. That’s cool. Okay. Well, we’ve got a lot of great tips here. Let’s talk more about maybe sort of like mindset or thought process or key questions to go through because we can get the particulars in terms of what’s a great background and what’s a great meeting platform, software, and what’s a great microphone. I just want to hear about how we should go about thinking through these questions to make the perfect choices for ourselves.

Diane DiResta
Well, the first thing, is people are not familiar with the technology, and there are so many different platforms. There’s Zoom, there’s Teams, there’s Google Meet, there’s WebEx, and so you need to know which one you’re on and get familiar with it. And, in fact, I went to a seminar that was virtual court, yeah, the virtual courtroom. It was for lawyers but I thought it’d be very interesting.

And one of the things that they said, the judge said, is, “We offer jurors, or people coming for hearings, the day before, to meet with a court officer who will train them and take them through the process.” That’s really important because, too often, people are on mute, and people don’t know it. And, in fact, there’s a coffee mug I’ve seen, it says, “You’re on mute,” and I think that is brilliant because it happens on every call. So, you need to get familiar with the technology. You need some help.

One of the worse situations, there was a professor recently, and he was giving a lecture and it was really interesting, but he started out and he didn’t even know he was on mute. And because there was no video, they were trying to let him know, and it took a while. And then, finally, “Oh, the wife is coming. She knows technology.” And then he said, “Well, you know, I’m a technophobe.” You’ve got to be prepared. You can’t let that kind of thing happen. So, that’s really key.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. Either you got to have the skills or you have to have a team immediately available whenever the situation calls for it.

Diane DiResta
And even then, things can go wrong.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. You’re talking about virtual court, we’re just going to have to link to this because it’s the funniest thing I think I’ve seen this year. Have you seen the cat?

Diane DiResta
Are you talking about, “I’m not a cat”? Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my gosh.

Diane DiResta
I blogged about that and I said the same thing, it’s like, “Get there early. Test it out.” Because that so embarrassing and it was funny but it was embarrassing. So, we don’t ever want to be at a position. For those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about, there was a viral video, there was a lawyer in court, and he couldn’t get his video to work except for an animated cat. So, every time he spoke, it was his voice through this cat. And the judge was saying, “Well, check your filters,” and he still couldn’t get it to stop. And that’s an embarrassment, you don’t want that to happen on the job.

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, I’m here live, judge. I’m not a cat.” And it’s the funniest thing I have seen, thus far, in 2021, so do yourself some favor and pull that up.

Diane DiResta
I will tell you, one of the things that people don’t realize is, and this is my rant, the talking head is dead. Truly, the talking head is dead. So, if you think you’re going to come online and lecture, you’re not going to be successful. People will tune you out. So, I talk about the two Es which are very different in the virtual world, and that’s eye contact and engagement.

Eye contact, when I coach people in the 3D world, I tell them, “Look at one person at a time and spread it around so you’re looking at the whole audience.” The reverse is true online. You want to look directly at the lens of your camera. Now this is hard because it’s like having a satellite interview. So, here’s what I do.

When I’m speaking, I look at the lens. When you’re speaking, I look at you so I can catch the nonverbals. But if I don’t look at the lens when I’m speaking, I’m not making a direct eye connection. The second thing is I always encourage people to start out with interaction. A poll is great or a question where they respond in the chat.

Because if you don’t do that and if you don’t engage them immediately, they’re on their phones, they’re going through their papers, they’re doing other things because they think they can just flip you on and listen as if it was on an ongoing webinar. So, don’t do a slide show where you’re just a voiceover slides because you will not have an audience paying attention. So, those are key.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is big. And that’s a great point on the eye contact with regards to just getting into that habit in terms of, “Now, I’m looking at the lens, and now I’m looking at you.” And I’m sure, someday, one of these tech people are going to make a lens inside a screen so that…

Diane DiResta
It’s happening. I think it might be Invidia. It’s already happening but it’s not going to be available for us, but, eventually, it will.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. So, here we are and I think that’s a good point with regard to conscientiously choosing that because it makes an impact in terms of, like, “I have a different feeling when you are looking right at the lens and I’m seeing you do that than the reverse, even though it’s so weird that we are not actually able to both make eye contact with each other at the same time.”

Diane DiResta
I know. And that’s one of the downfalls of the virtual world. But just think of yourself almost as a broadcaster or an actor, and you’re talking to the camera, and I can see you, I cannot see your face but I see you there in my peripheral vision. But, now, when you talk, I’m going to look at you.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great.

Diane DiResta
And that’s what I do these days.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Well, let’s talk about the engagement piece in terms of interactive, a poll. I would love for you to just rapid-fire share your favorite tips, tactics, tricks, brainstorms on how to engage virtually. I think a poll is great. What are some other ways you can do that?

Diane DiResta
Well, it depends on your platform. Some are more robust than others. I have the enterprise version of Zoom, and you can do a lot of things. So, polls are great. It can be a question-and-answer, a one-word or a sentence response, or it could be multiple choice. What’s great about polls is they’re fun because we can see them in the moment.

One of the things I do after a presentation is I raffle off a digital copy of my book Knockout Presentations. And the way I do that is there’s a virtual wheel, and I input everybody’s name before the presentation, and then I go to that wheel and spin it so they can see it and they can see their name, the spindle landing on their name, and it’s a lot of fun. It keeps people engaged and it also keeps them engaged to the end because they know that they’re going to get a prize. So, you have to have something at the end that they’re looking forward to.

There are some other ways that you can engage people. And, of course, we have breakout rooms, in that way people are getting into small pods and they’re talking to each other which is great. I love some of the icons, the hand raising. Now, you can do this a couple of ways. One with the icon or you can just have people raise their hand for a visual aid.

Sometimes when you need an icebreaker, if you see there’s a lull in the conversation, what you can do, I have a friend who does fabulous footwear, she’ll say, “All right, everybody, take off your shoe and hold it up and let’s see who has the most interesting shoe.” And, again, that can be something fun. You can use music. And I like to do something called square dancing when I want to get energy going. And so, you put on the music, you crank it up, and then people start dancing in their squares. And, again, people are moving to the music.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s kind of fun to watch in the gallery view, everyone moving at the same time. Okay.

Diane DiResta
Yes. Now, of course, if you’re talking to an investor, you’re not going to use that technique, but it depends. Now, here’s something that is a lot of fun. It’s an investment because you have to pay for this. But you can go online and download software games such as Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and Let’s Make a Deal, whatever those are. And then you can use them as part of your learning.

So, let’s say you’re doing sales training. Instead of the typical lecture and who has the answer, you can have two teams and you can input different answers beforehand and then you call in the team, they give you an answer, and either they get it or they don’t. So, it’s a lot of fun and it’s very engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is cool.

Diane DiResta
So, some of the software games are fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love to zoom in on a couple of these in particular. So, software games, there’s a training company that does this. Is there one in particular that you can mention here?

Diane DiResta
The Training Arcade.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, The Training Arcade. Okay. So, they have like a Jeopardy piece over there. Okay. Excellent.

Diane DiResta
You can download them. You’re going to pay for them but it’s worth it if you have a lot of people. So, I would say, if your goal is to train or to have fun or to motivate, if you’re in a sales culture, a training culture, you might want to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. And then your little spinney piece.

Diane DiResta
The spinning wheel?

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Diane DiResta
That is called WheelofNames.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Wheel of Names. Okay. Very cool.

Diane DiResta
And what you do is you input the names in advance. So, let’s say I have 20 people who are coming, I would put those 20 names in. And then, when I was ready, I would go to that page online and I would start spinning. It’s so much fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think that’s so cool, it’s that just the ability to share your screen enables tons of things to be possible. And this is very rudimentary, but I remember when I have my mastermind meetings with my fellow podcasters, who are awesome, everyone has been on the show and vice versa as it should be with the mastermind, we have…even just someone having the notes and the timer, and then sharing that screen so we’re looking at the notes and the timer, makes it more engaging than, hey, we’re just kind of talking.

So, those little things can make a world of difference even when it’s nothing fancy at all.

Diane DiResta
Using a whiteboard and actually drawing in real time. You see, here’s the thing with the brain. Every time you do something different, it stimulates attention. So, even the act of going to share your screen to show a document, people are, “It’s something new.” They’re going to go and look.

Pete Mockaitis
Great point. It just feels good to task-switch or multitask, even though that has its perils, which we’ve discussed several times. So, too, the switching it up feels good in that way. And I’m thinking about, I think, Miro – hey, they were a sponsor once, they’re awesome – has a lot of cool ways to like whiteboard and engage interactively there.

And I’m also thinking about even just like a Google Sheets. We’ve had some moments where it’s like, “Okay, guys. We’ve all talked about these options and now it’s time for us to, each on our sheet, rank or rate how well we think each of these options hits each of these criteria.” And then there’s sort of a top-level sheet that summarizes.

And, sure enough, I find that supremely engaging because my heart is stomping and I’m kind of wondering, “What number are they putting? What number am I putting? Should I check what number they’re putting? No, Pete, don’t be like the Olympic judge. Stand by your own opinions. Don’t sneak a peek.” It’s like, “I wonder if the one I’m supporting is going to be the winner.” Anyways.

Diane DiResta
Yeah. And, also, video clips. You can show a quick video clip that everybody watches and then can comment on. So, there are a number of ways you can do this. You can actually have people write their responses in the chat or you can open up the mics. Call on someone and say, “Let’s hear your voice,” because people want to talk. They want to hear their own voice. So, a number of techniques help to engage.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Diane DiResta
So, the more variety, the better.

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

Diane DiResta
I would say a couple of things. People don’t realize that this is a skill. And I always say that gifted speakers are born but effective speakers are made. So, make a commitment to learn these skills because, years ago, I used to say that tomorrow’s speakers would need broadcasting skills, and we are here. We are way beyond that. So, you need to start thinking of yourself as a broadcaster, not just a speaker presenter.

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

Diane DiResta
The quote that I put in my high school yearbook, which is, “A quitter never wins. A winner never quits.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And a favorite study or a piece of research?

Diane DiResta
I like some of the research that’s coming out about women. The one I read recently was, you know, the belief that women are talkers, and yet when they show research, I believe it was Harvard or Stanford, women actually talk less than men do in meetings. So, it really blew away a stereotype.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Diane DiResta
The Science of Mind and Think and Grow Rich. The Science of Mind is a huge textbook-like book by Ernest Holmes but it’s all about spiritual, mental training which really helps people understand the power they have when they use the power of their mind.

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

Diane DiResta
A favorite tool. I love Zoom. I use Zoom all the time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Diane DiResta
I don’t know if it’s a favorite habit but I have a habit of getting up early now, and that makes a big difference in my productivity. I get up at 5:30 in the morning. To me, that’s early. And that allows me to create certain rituals, so prayers, affirmation, and I read one page of something spiritual before I look at my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Diane DiResta
What I said earlier, that gifted speakers are born and effective speakers are made.

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

Diane DiResta
The best place is my website DiResta.com. And I want to tell people that I’m going to be starting a group coaching for women, for women business professionals so that they can feel more confident and have the support of a group as well as work with me in a coaching capacity. So, that’s coming up. If you would like to learn more about that, send me an email through DiResta.com. And you can also get my book Knockout Presentations on Amazon or any of the online stores.

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

Diane DiResta
The final challenge is commit to being a good communicator. I don’t think there’s any skill that’s more impactful or important than communication. It doesn’t matter how technically proficient you are or how smart you are, you need to be able to be a good communicator. So, make a commitment. And make a commitment to be able to do that on a virtual platform because this is not going away.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Diane, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck with all presentations, virtual and in person.

Diane DiResta
Thank you. And I wish you success on the platform of life and may all your presentations be a knockout.

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.