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505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nancy:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Erica

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

481: Easy Ways to Have More Fun at Work with Drew Tarvin

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Drew Tarvin says: "Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun? You're going to pick fun pretty much all the time."

Drew Tarvin shares how to bring more humor and fun into the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The power of humor on your work-life productivity
  2. How to craft good work humor that considers medium, audience, and purpose
  3. The 3 specific situations when NOT to use humor at work

About Drew

Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer, teaching people how to get better results while having more fun. Combining his background as a project manager at Procter & Gamble with his experience as a stand-up comedian, he reverse-engineers the skill of humor in a way that is practical, actionable, and gets results in the workplace. Through his company, Humor That Works, Drew has worked with more than 35,000 people at over 250 organizations, including Microsoft, the FBI, and the International Association of Canine Professionals. He is a bestselling author; has been featured in The Wall Street JournalForbes, and Fast Company; and his TEDx talk has been viewed more than four million times. He loves the color orange, is obsessed with chocolate, and can solve a Rubiks Cube (but it takes like 7 minutes).

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Drew Tarvin Interview Transcript

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

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on such a nicely-titled podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yes, I like the direct approach. I want to hear all sorts of things from you. But, first, I want to hear about how you’re left-handed except when it comes to shooting pool. What’s the story here?

Drew Tarvin
You know, I don’t know. Growing up, everything would go left-handed, which is not so great when you’re doing handwriting. And then I tried shooting pool and I could not shoot left-handed. It was just weird and awkward. So, then I switched to the right side and it worked, which is bizarre. So, everything, I write left-handed, I throw a baseball left-handed, I cut paper with left-handed scissors and all that, but shooting pool, it’s on the right side. I don’t know what that says about me. I don’t know what that means for coordination but that’s just a fun fact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I wonder about like darts or bowling.

Drew Tarvin
Darts, yeah. You think of like the pool hall game, it’s mostly, yeah, darts is still left-handed. I try to act like I’m ambidextrous, that I can use right-handed, and, in fact, my handwriting is almost as good with my right hand as it is with my left hand, but that’s just because my left-handed writing is so terrible that whatever the right hand does isn’t that bad in comparison.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, handwriting was, I believe, my worst subject in my entire academic career.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, and people are like, “You’re going to need this for your entire rest of your life.” And now our computers are like, “No, no, actually.” I mean, I sign things but, aside from that, I don’t really do much handwriting.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I want to dig into your career. You are a humor engineer – intriguing – and you’ve studied humor in the workplace for many years. Can you share with us what’s perhaps one of the most fascinating and surprising discoveries you’ve made as you’ve dug into this topic?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that it’s a surprise for many people especially when they hear my background. So, they maybe see me speak, and like, “How did you get into this?” I’m like, “Well, I got a degree in computer science and engineering.” And they’re like, “That doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t seem like the background and then get into standup comedy and do speaking and all that for a living.”

But I think that’s part of what led me to one of the biggest realizations, is that humor is a skill. I think a lot of times we think of humor, making people laugh, being jovial in certain ways is kind of something that you’re born naturally able to do, and if you can do it, great, but if you can’t, you’re kind of out of luck. But that’s a big learning, is that it’s something that we can learn, that there’s an art and science to using humor, which means that we can teach this, the humor side, the science part of it, while also allowing people to practice the art side of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, I want to dig into the art and science and the skill-building, how we can all have more of it but I want to hear a little bit about the why first. So, you make an argument that humor is not just kind of, “Oh, nice to have. It’d be a little bit more fun if we could have it.” But, rather, like a must-have or a critical source of advantage. Can you share some of these benefits with us?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. And so, part of it comes from the realization that 83% of Americans are stressed out at work, that 55% are unsatisfied with their jobs, and that 47% struggle to stay happy. And so, it leads to this recognition that with 70% of the workforce being disengaged, it costs the US economy an estimated $500 billion in lost productivity every year.

If you do that math on that based on the number of people working and the estimated cost, that costs a $4,638 per disengaged employee. And so, to me, as an engineer looking at all that, what it’s saying is that the current way of working isn’t actually working. And, for me, I discovered that humor was a way for me to stay more engaged in my work. And when I use it, other people actually got into it as well. And so, there’s all these benefits to it that have been backed by research, case studies, real-world examples, so evidence-based examples of why humor is valuable.

So, it leads to things like an increase in productivity, a decrease in stress, an increase in happiness. At a company level, when organizations embrace it, you see an increase in positive workplace culture, an increase in engagement, a decrease in turnover, an increase in profit. There’s all these different benefits that are factually based that speak to the value of using humor in the workplace, and that’s why I say it’s a must-have.

And the way that we work today, where work-life balance is no longer is a thing, and it’s more about work-life integration, and the challenges that we have day-to-day of always feeling like this need to do more with less-type thing, humor is a skill that can help us with all of those, the changes that are happening in the workplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued in that world of do more with less. Some might say, “Hey, Drew, we can’t burn all this time just joking around and being goofy. We got to produce some stuff.” So, how do you think about that?

Drew Tarvin
I would say, yeah, that’s 100% right. And if you were working with robots or cyborgs, yes, agree. But even something like, imagine running your phone down and being like, “All right. I need to be efficient with my phones so I refuse to charge it,” you would be great for about 24, maybe if you have a newer phone, maybe 48 hours, and then the phone is going to be burned out, it’s going to be dead, and it’s not going to work at all.

And that’s one of the things that I joke about is that, as an engineer, I’ve done a lot of research on productivity. I’m a huge fan of getting things done and thinking about that mentality and all that. But I’ve learned that it is very difficult to be productive if you are dead, or if you feel like you’re dead too, if you’re sick, if you’re tired, if you’re burned out, if you’re stressed out, if you’re worn out.

And so, recognizing that this was a huge aha for me in the workplace is that there’s a difference between being efficient and being effective. And you can be efficient with things like computers. You don’t need to motivate a computer to work, you don’t need to convince it to turn on, it doesn’t need a cup of coffee before it starts in the morning, right? But you can’t be efficient with humans because they have emotions and feelings, and because they have to eat and sleep, and because they get sick and tired. And so, instead of being efficient, we have to be effective and recognizing that humor is a way that we can be more effective.

So, you’re absolutely right. Maybe it’s not the most efficient thing in the moment, but it is long term more effective. And when you think about it, what’s efficient longer term, you explaining something once where people actually kind of get it, they remember it a little bit more, they understand it, or you having to explain it eight times down the road because you’re trying to do it as efficiently as possible?

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard, and maybe you can unpack this for me, Mr. Humor Engineer, that when we have recently laughed, our brain state, the neurochemical, biochemical situation is that you are more receptive to receive and hear and absorb information. Can you unpack that a bit?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lot of both physiological and psychological benefits of using humor. And part of that receptivity is you can kind of explain it more simply with a dumb question. And the dumb question is, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” It’s a dumb question, right? But you’re going to pick fun pretty much all the time. So, that means if you were to make your content a little bit more fun, do you think people would be a little bit more open to wanting to hear it?

And I see this all the time as a speaker. So, I speak to a lot of maybe sometimes dry or more conservative organizations, so engineering groups and accounting firms and things like that, and so they’re used to a certain type of speaker. And so, I might go up towards the end of the day, a lot of the times I’m a closing keynote speaker, they’ve had a lot of content, a lot of great content, but it’s been on the drier side.

So, when I first go up, you’ll see a lot of people kind of on their phones or looking through their notebook or whatever, and then I say a line and it makes a couple of people laugh, and you’ll see people look up from their phones and be like, “Wait, I want to laugh. Why did that guy laugh? Oh, I’m going to listen to this guy to see why he made people laugh. Oh, okay.”

As a great speaker named Tami Evans says, “Once you give people laughing, you get them listening. And once you get them listening, you get them learning, you get them taking action, whatever it is, because you’re making that process a little bit more fun.” And, yeah, there’s some science in some of this stuff too in terms of showing that getting people to laugh makes them less defensive, you’ve kind of lower their defenses, or they’re a little bit more likely to see things from a different angle, because part of humor is also changing perspective.

So, if you get people to look at things a different way. So, for example, maybe a silly example is I don’t like mint chocolate. Are you a mint chocolate fan?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I do. I very much like them.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, you’re a mint chocolate? Okay. See, I’ve never been eating chocolate, and then like, “You know what would great with this? Toothpaste, right?” And so, that’s not necessarily going to convince you to be like, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate anymore,” but it’s expressing that rather than me just saying, “Oh, I don’t like mint chocolate and it’s dumb,” right, it’s just giving you a slightly different angle that you now laugh about, and you’re like, “All right, well, I can at least kind of see that perspective,” right? So, it’s lowering your defenses because humor started it.

And that’s kind of one of the many benefits to using humor in the workplace is that, one, it gets people listening because they want to laugh, and then, two, once they’re listening, it helps them understand something a little bit more and maybe changes their perspective around it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now, Drew, I have to ask, what’s that line, not that it’s the end-all-be-all and applicable to all circumstances, but we want to hear it? I think one of my favorite humor moves, I saw that to start a speech was this speaker was being introduced and they were sharing all of the great accolades, like, “Featured in the Wall Street Journal,” and all these things. And he just said, “Oh, my, that’s impressive.” I thought that was awesome because, like, anytime you’re being introduced you can pull that schtick a little bit because they know you wrote the bio and it’s being read about you, and for you to pretend that you’re surprised and like, “Hmm?” it just made me chuckle. So, what was your line?

Drew Tarvin
So, I have in my bio, in my introduction, one of the ones that I like, and it’s maybe not necessarily super hilarious, but like I give my client list as Microsoft, the FBI, the International Association of Canine Professionals is kind of my comic trip which, because it’s one of the most interesting groups that I’ve ever presented for.

And, of course, kind of my joke about it is that, and it’s kind of I had that split second when I first got the emails, it’s like, “Is this an association for dogs who have jobs?” I was like, “Oh, no, it’s an association for people who are dog trainers.” And that’s one of the things that I love about speaking is that I get to work with all of these different groups that, “Oh, yeah, of course, canine professionals, one, have a title like Canine Professionals, and, two, they have a conference where they get together and get to know each other a little bit better.”

And so, yeah, anytime you can kind of incorporate those types of things it helps. The other thing that I’ve started doing is in the bottom of my bio, I include that I love the color orange, which is kind of a random aside, and I love chocolate. Because what I found is when I spoke in Europe for the first time, I shared, “Oh, he’s obsessed with chocolate,” I started getting chocolate as my speaker gift because sometimes people are like, oh, not that I’m expecting a speaker gift, but if people are going to be like, “Hey, here’s a bottle of wine,” or, “Here’s X, Y, or Z,” I love chocolate so I’d rather inform them to say, “Hey, here’s something that you can get me that if you present me with a box of chocolates, I’m going to be delighted by.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay. Well, so there we go. We got some good benefits, and it’s possible for anyone to learn this art and skill. So, I guess, where do we start or how would you orient us to sort of the components of what makes humor work?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I think that the starting point is probably around the definition of humor and making sure that we’re kind of aligned on that because I think we have a certain mindset when it comes to what we think of with humor. And that definition is really important. I kind of relate it to—so I was recently in the UK, and it took me going to the UK for the very first time to realize that I don’t speak English, right? I speak American because British English is different than American English. There are certain words that they say versus what we say.

Like, we say in the US, we say elevator, they say lift, right? We say fries, they say chips, and chips is something different for us. We say, for the most part, we say like bathroom, they say toilets, right, or the loo. And so, when you’re out in the public, I think that that’s more accurate because if you are out in the public and you say, “Hey, where’s the bathroom?” there’s typically no bath in that room. And as an engineer, I’m like, “Okay, that’s more specific, that’s accurate.” So, I was like, “I’m going to start using that in my language.” I’m going to start asking, “Where are the toilets?” or refer to them as toilets.

So, I’m in a Starbucks here in New York City, and I go up to a barista, and I’m like, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?” And she was confused, she was like, “Ah, in the bathroom?” Right? And so, there’s just that idea that language and how we think about it is important. We want to make sure that we’re on the same page with language. And so, when it comes to defining humor, to make sure that we know what we’re talking about, humor is more broad than comedy, right?

Humor is defined as a comic, absurd, or incongruous quality causing amusement. And so, so often people think laughter, they think standup comedy. They hear humor in the workplace and, suddenly, they’re like, “Oh, does that mean that I have to like start telling jokes? Does that mean that I have to try to become the class clown or a jester?” And that’s not at all what we’re talking about. Instead we’re talking about this broader definition where maybe it’s not about making the workplace funny, but about making it a little bit more fun.

Because the bar for comedy at work is much, much lower than, yeah, if you were trying to get up on stage and rock it at a standup comedy club or get a Netflix comedy special, the level of “funny” that you need to be is pretty high. You need to be getting four to seven laughs per minute, they need to be good laughs, solid chuckles, really kind of cohesive ideas, things that you’ve probably practiced many, many, many times before, versus if you’re just trying to get a little bit more humor into a meeting. Simply having an image behind you that isn’t just a wall full of text but is kind of an interesting image that you’re speaking to might be a simple way of getting a laugh.

Or, like you said, in your bio, having a quick line about, like, “Oh, that sounds impressive.” That’s not necessarily the funniest joke ever written, but it is something different, and in that context, it makes things a lot more interesting. And so, I think understanding that definition and recognizing when we’re talking humor in the workplace, we don’t mean about making the workplace funny, but more about making it more fun, I think, is a good starting point for people.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, certainly. Well, that’s great. That’s really reduces some of the pressure and lowers the bar and it’s true, I have seen certain contexts where someone tells a joke, there’s a whole lot of laughter, I’m thinking, “Boy, you know, if that person were not…whoever they were, or wherever we were, there wouldn’t be nearly that kind of response.” So, that’s great. Okay, so it’s not too hard. So, how shall we proceed?

Drew Tarvin
Yes, so the way that we kind of frame using and getting intentional about using humor in the workplace is around what we call a humor map. And the humor map stands for your medium, your audience, and your purpose. So, your medium is how are you going to execute that humor? Is it in an email? Is it in a phone call? Is it in a one-on-one situation? Because we know that your medium impacts your message.

Something like sarcasm or satire, you’ve maybe sent a text that’s meant to be a joke before, and you learned from the other person that they took it the wrong way, or they read into it a little bit more. So, sarcasm and satire are very difficult to do, say, in a text form because people, they can’t see that you are joking, they can’t see the paralanguage of the body language and the tone of voice and everything that  you’re saying it with, and so your medium impacts it, right? So, understanding what that’s going to be – email, phone call, one-on-one, live video, or life, or video version, or whatever it is.

Pete Mockaitis
I have to chime in. Have you seen the Key & Peele sketch where they’re texting and have completely different interpretations of what’s going on?

Drew Tarvin
Exactly, yeah. And that’s a great – and Key & Peele, one, fantastic, a great place to kind of share things. And also, they’re sometimes a little bit not safe for work with language, but the other thing about understanding kind of what we can talk about this with the map is recognizing humor in the workplace, you don’t always have to be the creator of humor. But, instead, you can be the shepherd of humor, right? You can share funny things out.

So, if you wanted to make that point about the importance of medium, you can then share the Key & Peele sketch, right, share a link to it on YouTube or Comedy Central or wherever it resides, and then be like, “All right. You know, this is kind of a funny reminder how someone says something in text might be taken a different way.” And there you didn’t create the humor but you’re now leveraging it in this way to still get a specific kind of result. That’s it.

I forgot about that sketch. That’s a great sketch and really demonstrates that idea.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, we think about the medium and note that some things work well or not so well for them, such as, “Do we have the facial expressions and the gestures and the tone of voice or do we not?” Anything else to consider with regard to the medium?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think, and this is where things like memes or GIFs or things like that can help because they introduce a visual element to your message, and you’re seeing emojis come up even more. I was just reading an article recently that emojis are coming up in court cases as well, and judges don’t necessarily know what to do with them. But the whole point of emojis are to help you better convey a message because you can’t visually be there.

Now, does that mean you should, in a very formal email to all of your clients and your boss and all that, include a bunch of emojis after every sentence to make sure that they know what message you’re sharing? No, but in a more conversational kind of text, you might. If you’re making a joke, you might put a smiley face at the end of it, or you might put, kind of the wry kind of dry winky face or something. So, emojis can be part of the communication.

But a big thing is kind of really with GIFs and memes, you might also express humor maybe in that way. So, it’s really just understanding the medium and how it might be received, and recognizing that the safest is kind of in person. Because if someone does take something the wrong way, you can kind of react to that more in the moment, you can react to it. In text, it might be a little bit easier just to link to things, to reference other things as opposed. If you’re not a great joke writer, then maybe you’re not going to write your own jokes but, again, you can, as so and so said, boom, quote someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay. So, we got the medium. And how about the audience?

Drew Tarvin
So, the audience is, who is the audience? What do they know? What do they need? What do they expect? Because part of using humor is not to replace the work, right? To borrow kind of from Office Space, if your boss is like, “Hey, do you have those TPS reports?” You don’t want to like make a quick joke, and then when they say, “No, seriously, do you have them?” you don’t want to be like, “Well, got to go. See you later.” Right?

So, it doesn’t replace the work. You still have to actually do the work. And so, you still have to deliver on what the person needs, but you might do it in a way that they don’t quite expect, right, that’s bringing some of the humor, some of the fun element to it. So, that’s what you need to understand about your audience, is, “Okay, what does this person need and then how can I do it in a way that deliver against it whether maybe not quite expecting it? Oh, they know they need this information, they’re going to hear a presentation about it, they know they’re going to see some slides, oh, but if I make those slides a little bit more interesting, now they’re going to be leaning forward a little bit more because they’re like, ‘Okay, how does this picture of a dog relate to what I’m going to talk about?’” And then you can think of connect how that interesting picture of a dog leads to what you’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. And can you provide some more examples here?

Drew Tarvin
Another example, say, you want to build rapport with someone, and they need to get to know you a little bit more, right? So, they ask you a question. Think of maybe stereotypical networking questions of like, “What do you do?” So you could answer like, “What do you do?” with, for me, I could say, “Oh, I’m a speaker or I’m a trainer. But what I most I identify with is I’m a humor engineer. So, I used to be a computer science engineer, I used to solve problems in the workplace using things like technologies and computer-to-technology and computers. Now, I solve problems in the workplace using humor, so in that way I feel like I’m a humor engineer.”

And so, when people ask, “What do you do?” I say, “Oh, I’m a humor engineer.” That’s delivering kind of what they need in a way that they don’t expect it, and it usually leads to more questions. Because it’s a made-up term, they’re like, “Okay, what does that mean?” And that allows me to say, “Oh, well, I do a lot of speaking and training on the value of using humor to get better results.”

And so, it’s just something that stands out a little bit more, something that is a little bit more interesting. And then I might go into a story, right? So, stories, when people ask those questions like that, a story, or facts told in story form are 20 times more likely to be remembered than facts told in bullet point form. And so, if you’re at a networking event, if you want to stand out, rather than just being like, “Oh, yeah, I’m a speaker. I train on this,” giving a little bit more background, one, helps you remember things, but, two, it also builds connections.

So, I say, “I’ve always been an engineer. I’ve always been obsessed with efficiency ever since I can remember, really since before I can remember because I was born three weeks early, so apparently a human in the womb. I was like I don’t need a full nine months, I’m ready to go right now. So, then I went to The Ohio State University, got a degree in computer science and engineering. And after I graduated, I started working at Procter & Gamble, and that’s where I realized there was this difference between being efficient and effective.”

And, now, in that conversation, I’ve now answered the question, I’m getting to the point of, “Okay, how did I get to humor engineering?” And in that story, one, it’s a little bit more interesting than just kind of sharing “humor engineer,” or even just sharing “speaker-trainer,” but it also gives people a connecting point. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you’re trying to find ways to build rapport with that person. And in that story, I’ve now told them, “Oh, I’m an engineer.” If they’re an engineer as well, they’re like, “Oh, okay, I’m mechanical,” or, “I’m in civil engineering.” Now, we have a connection over engineering.

Or, I say, “I went to The Ohio State University.” They might be like, “Oh, I grew up in Ohio as well. What do you think of like Cincinnati versus Cleveland, or Greger’s ice cream versus Jeni’s Ice Cream?” Or, if they’re not from there, they might be like, “Why do you guys say The Ohio State University?” And the answer, “I don’t know. I just know that if we don’t say The Ohio State, then we get our degree taken away, I think,” right?

Or if it’s like, “Oh, I work at P&G.” “Oh, I used to know someone that worked at P&G.” There’s all these small things that they can now connect to that build rapport that they’re getting from me, that they won’t even get if I just said, “Oh, I’m a speaker-trainer.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. And then did we hit the purpose part here?

Drew Tarvin
Yes. And then the last piece, well, the other thing that I would say about the audience piece is that your relationship to that person matters as well because a joke that you would say with someone that you’ve known for 10 years is very different than something that you might say with someone that you’ve met for the very first time.

And so, understanding what is your relationship with this person, and recognizing that when you’re first meeting someone, or if you’re doing it in front of a large group of people, if you’re using humor in front of a large group of people, you’re probably going to be a little bit more broad, a little bit more, safer kind of with your humor versus someone that you know very, very well, where it’s like, “Oh, okay, this person likes this type of humor. I know that I can say this, and I know that they know that I’m joking, that we have that rapport, we have that relationship kind of built up.” So, that relationship piece with the audience is really important as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Drew Tarvin
And then the last piece, yeah, is the purpose. And this is the most important one, and this is, “Why do you want to use humor?” Because, humor, for the sake of humor is fine, I guess. But as an engineer, what I love about it is that we can use it for a specific result. And so, we kind of frame this around it’s my general belief that there are five skills at work. No matter who you are or what you do, it kind of comes down to five things.

Any thoughts on from your perspective? What do you think is included in kind of—if you have a job, what types of things are you doing?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thinking, communicating, creating stuff.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, absolutely. Right. So, you have to be able to think, right? You’re creating strategic plans, you’re being critical, you’re also being creative kind of in that thinking mode. Like, you said, communicating. You articulate the intelligence that you have. You’re sharing the ideas that are in your head. Actually, creating stuff, right, so in a way I would call it, kind of execution, you’re actually completing tasks, you’re getting things done for sure. Any others come to mind?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think about how you do it with regard to just your own self-management, care, and energy, and attentiveness.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, right. Kind of a component, a little bit of that, the thinking side of things, of actually creating the plan of, “Okay, what do I actually need to work on? How do I prioritize these things? And how do I actually get it done? What’s my motivation for it?” And then I would add also like you have to be able to connect with people, right? You have to understand emotional intelligence.

We recognize that emotional intelligence is one of the strongest predictors of career success. People who, I think it’s something like 90% of top performers have high EQ, high emotional intelligence. Where less than 20% of low performers do, so it is one of those skills that does tend to stand out. Because we work with humans, we have to be able to connect with them on a human level and understand how they work.

And then you also have to be able to lead. You have to be able to influence people to some type of goal to kind of move them in. In every job is what we would say is those five things of executing, actually completing tasks, thinking, right, strategically creating a plan, critically and creatively, communicating, connecting, and leading. And so, every job kind of comes to some percentage of those five things.

And so, what we say is using humor in the workplace isn’t going to change those five, right? They’re all still going to exist. It’s simply how you do those five, kind of what you’re talking about, the motivation and things like that. So, humor can be a how across those five. And so, the purpose piece is maybe you want to use humor as a way to increase your execution, right, to execute faster. So, you might use humor as a way to increase your efficiency.

And so, one way to do that, one strategy is to play-work, is to find ways to add gamification in your work so that it’s more enjoyable. Back to that question of, “Would you rather do something that is fun or not fun?” Well, if you make your work a little bit more fun, you’re more willing to engage, and you’re more willing to do it.

And so, this might be something as simple as listening to music while you’re doing kind of a mundane task. One of the things that I like to do is I’ll start to read emails in a different accent in my head. This is way to kind of stay engaged with emails that I’m going through. You might decide to do a task with a friend and compete with them. Be like, “Hey, we both got to do our expense reports right now, so let’s set a timer and see who can get through the most expense reports in 15 minutes.”

And, again, it’s not the funniest thing, it’s not a Netflix comedy special, but it’s making the work a little bit more fun, changing your perspective around it so that you’re a little bit more engaged with it and willing to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, you know, I would love it if you could share all the more of these. I do this when I am, I guess, proofreading. I’ve written something and I find, boy, when you read it out loud you just find stuff that reading it in your head doesn’t. So, I don’t know what character I’m assuming when I read things out loud but it’s kind of almost like a very earnest broadcaster who’s also talking very fast because it’s like, “Andrew Tarvin is the world’s first humor engineer teaching people how to get better results while having more fun.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess, and again, it doesn’t make me sort of laugh out loud, like, “This is ridiculously hilarious.” But if it gets the job done, I am proofreading by reading aloud, and I’m having a little bit more fun with it than if I were just reading the words like a school child is reading a book aloud.

Drew Tarvin
Exactly. And I think that’s exactly that makes it a little bit more interesting. And this is where I encourage in a lot of ways, you know, bringing things that are an outside passion in your work as well. Or maybe, yeah, if you were a kid and you always wanted to grow up to be a broadcaster, absolutely, proofread things kind of as a broadcaster. If you love doing accents for whatever reason, read it in a different accent and see what it would kind of sound like. Whatever it is, it’s just small tweaks.

And this is a form of humor called self-enhancing humor. And it’s kind of epitomized by, there’s a great quote from Kurt Vonnegut that said “Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration.” I, myself, prefer to laugh because there’s less cleaning up to do afterwards.

And so, it’s this idea of, hey, you have to do the proofreading anyway. You could choose to say, “Hey, this is annoying and I hate it. Ugh, God, this is just the worst.” Or I can be like, “All right. I’m going to do it anyway. Yeah, let me put on a broadcaster voice to make it a little bit more fun. Or let me try to be an auctioneer and see how fast I can get through it. Or let me try some of these accents that I think are kind of fun. Or let me do it to music.”

In fact, I’ve just started doing this, because I have a bit of a nasal voice, getting over a sore throat, so it’s a little bit deeper now. And at times it is a little bit monotone. And so, someone was saying, “Oh, when you’re practicing your speeches, practice it to inspirational music.” Like, put on an inspirational instrumental behind you, and that’s going to automatically, kind of, you’re going to start to add musicality almost to your voice.

So, these are just small things that you can do to make the process a little bit more fun. And the other beautiful thing about these as examples is that no one can stop you from doing them. So there’s all these benefits to humor in the workplace, but not everyone was using humor. And so, I wanted to understand why.

And the number one reason why people don’t use humor, at least according to the survey that we ran through our site, was that they didn’t think their boss or coworkers would approve, right? They didn’t see that as a culture in the workplace. And the reality is that 98% of CEOs prefer job candidates with a sense of humor and 81% of employees said that a fun workplace would make them more productive.

Most people want it but they haven’t necessarily created a culture of it and so people think that it’s not welcome. And a lot of times it’s just because people haven’t tried, so a lot of times you can start out and it’s usually received pretty well. But even if you’re in an organization where like, “No, my manager has like explicitly told me no fun whatsoever. If you’re laughing it means you’re not working hard enough. They call it work because it’s work not because it’s play, and it has to feel like it.”

Like if you work in an environment like that, well, maybe consider kind of why you’re continuing to go to that, but also recognize that no one can control how you think. No one can stop you from if you’re proofreading these things to yourself, changing the voice in which you do them. If you have a commute that you have to go through, no one can stop you from listening to a comedy podcast, or making it a regular thing of, “Hey, every day or every Monday or whatever, I’m going to make sure that I’m listening to the Awesome at Your Job podcast because it puts me in a good mood, and I have a good time, and I’m going to relieve some stress to show up more presence for my family when I get there,” right? No one can stop you from doing that in your car.

And so, these are all things that you could choose to do no matter the work environment, and that’s why it’s a starting kind of first strategy that we share is that it is something that you are entirely in control of.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’d love to hear when it comes to we’re worried about it may be unwelcome, what are some of the easiest little baby steps for, “Okay, I’m entering a meeting, I’m doing a presentation, like, here are some safe things you can do that will make it a little bit more fun and have extremely low risk of folks flipping out about it”?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah. Well, I think going back to if you’re clear on the map piece, because I think that when people tend to get in trouble with humor in the workplace, it’s usually one of two reasons. One, it’s inappropriate humor. So, it is important to understand there is a difference, say, bad humor and inappropriate humor.

Pete Mockaitis
The joke which is not funny versus, “What? Why are you discussing these lewd sexual acts?” Not the place.

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So, a bad joke, yeah. And they’ve done studies where if you share a joke that is appropriate but people don’t laugh, there’s no real negative gain to a person, there’s no like perception change or anything like that, especially if it’s a positive-inclusive and a positive-inclusive joke that doesn’t get a laugh just becomes a positive-inclusive statement, so it tends to be okay.

However, an inappropriate joke, even if it’s successful, even if it makes people laugh, can have a negative impact on people’s perception of your competency in the workplace. It doesn’t affect their confidence in you, but it does affect their perception of your competence, right? And so, inappropriate humor is typically inappropriate for one of three reasons.

One, it’s an inappropriate topic, exactly what you were talking about. Using humor is not an excuse to talk about sex or drugs or rock and roll in the workplace. It’s not going to be, “Hey, this is typically a taboo subject, but because I’m saying a joke about it, it’s okay.” That’s not true. It could be inappropriate because it has an inappropriate target. So, some humor has a target that is someone else. And so, if you’re using humor as a way to make fun of someone, or if it’s a racist joke, or a sexist joke, right, that’s still very much inappropriate in general, but particularly in the workplace.

And then the third time is that it could in an inappropriate time, right? So, humor is just one tool of many tools that we can use in the workplace, and it’s not to say it’s always going to be the best tool to use so you do have to recognize that there might be inappropriate times. So, if you’re firing someone, that’s not the time to like bust out your “Frozen” parody and be like, “I’ve got to let you go, let you go. I’m not going to pay you back anymore,” right? Like, I can’t sing at all. But it’s not like, “Oh, this is going to make it more fun.” That’s an inappropriate time.

So, I think understanding that is one way to make sure that we keep things appropriate and that we don’t run into trouble, to make sure it’s more positive-inclusive. And then I think the other thing is going back to the map piece and specific to that purpose piece, that it’s not just, “Hey, I want to be fun to be just so I’m seen as funny.”

So, sometimes people ask me about, “Okay, but what about Michael Scott in The Office? He was always trying to have fun.” And the problem is that Michael Scott, you know, he’s a fictional character, his primary motivation of humor seems to be validation, right? He just wanted to be liked by everyone, and he wanted everyone to see him as a funny person, and that’s not a great starting reason for using humor. You want to be more specific about it, like, “Okay, I want to use humor in this meeting to keep people engaged in the content and help them understand it better.” That’s going to change the type of humor you use over, “I want people to see me as really funny.”
And so, some simple ways around to do that is I’m a big believer in if you’re doing presentations, rather than having a wall-full of texts, do include more images because the images themselves can be part of the punchline and you don’t have to be the one that created the humor. If you go to, like, Flickr.com and do a Creative Commons search for, hey, if you’re talking about new initiatives in the workplace around stress management, go in and do some searching for stress. Or if you recognize, “Oh, yeah,” and smiling is something that can kind of help in the workplace, find a picture of a dog that’s smiling and it makes people laugh.

Or, in my TEDx Talk, I share a picture of – I say that I work with some pretty conservative organizations and will admit that sometimes when I’m talking about the benefits of humor, they are a little bit skeptical. And when I say skeptical, as I click to the next slide, and it’s a dog that kind of looks skeptical. And so, people are now laughing, and goes, “Oh, yeah, that is kind of funny. That dog kind of looks like it has that expression that it is a skeptical-looking dog.” And so now they’re laughing, and it’s just an additional kind of punchline, and I didn’t have to put the word skeptical behind me. I didn’t need to put all the research and everything there. It was just kind of one way to keep it, and make it a little bit more engaging. So, I think images can be a great way to do that.

I think activities is another way to incorporate some humor in a way that everyone is included. And so, another form of humor, so we talked about self-enhancing humor. Another form of humor is affiliative humor, and this is positive-inclusive where everyone is part of the end group of that humor. So, I think of kind of Ellen DeGeneres.

And so, when you’re starting a meeting, as a project manager, I used to start meetings with a simple question that people could answer pretty quickly to go around the room, if it’s a group of like eight people or so, to be like, “All right. Just before we get started, I want to…” and I’ve set this up before but, like, “We’re doing these questions as a way to get to know each other a little bit better, remind ourselves that we work with fellow humans and not just resources. So, today’s question is, very quickly, go around the table and reply with the first thing you remember buying with your own money.” Or something that you think is, “What’s something that you think is true for you that you don’t think is true for anyone else in the room?” Or just these kinds of specific questions that get people to kind of share a little bit more about them because it goes back to this resource piece.

Like, as a project manager, I labeled people as resources, and most workplaces label people as resources. And, over time, you start to forget that the other person on the other side of an email, or the other side of a phone call, or the other side of a conference desk, is a fellow human being with human lives and human emotions and, maybe, just maybe, the reason that they’re email is late to you is not because they secretly hate you, but because they have a sick kid at home.

And that’s part of what humor is doing, is it’s reminding us kind of our humanity in the workplace, and saying, “Hey, we’re all in this together as people.” And so, small things that we can do that can remind people, that can be a great way to kind of introduce humor in a safer and easier way.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve also talked a bit about how to use humor to diffuse conflict. How does that work? Can you give us a demonstration?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so a lot of times it’s just kind of becoming a reminder of that situation of kind of what the situation is and creating a pattern to interrupt. Because so often our conflict is we get so kind of narrowed in on a focus, or a problem that is coming up, or a conversation that’s happening, and we need to be just kind of interrupted from that to kind of take a break and step back. And sometimes just observing, kind of giving an observation or sharing an observation about the room can help or the situation.

For example, I was at a meeting at P&G and it was getting pretty intense, we were a little bit behind on a project and so there are some kind of blame, kind of calling out and blaming people and things like that. And my manager, at one point, was like, “All right. Everyone, listen. We need to remember that at the end of the day, we sell soap.” And that wasn’t to discount P&G’s mission, it wasn’t to say what we were working on wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things, but it was to remind us, “Hey, we’re in this very intense argument about selling soap. This isn’t World War II, this isn’t the Civil War. We can take a step back, we can take a breath,” and that was enough to make us laugh and for us to kind of recharge.

And so, sometimes it’s like to say, okay, you use a comment, or get people to take a break, and then say, “Okay, maybe let’s take five. Let’s take five minutes, let’s relieve some stress, let’s use some humor, whether it’s watching comedy video, or do a quick activity, or everyone just go for a walk and then come back,” because you need that kind of space between the stimulus and the action that you create, and humor can help you create that space.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Drew, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we talk about some of your favorite things?

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, so I would say there’s two quick things that I would say. One, kind of given the audience that I know is listening, recognizing that there is a difference sometimes in how humor is received between men and women. So, in one study they found that when men use humor, now, I’m going to mess up the percentages but they’re kind of close. When men use humor, it was met with a positive response 80% of the time, I think. When women use humor, it was met with a positive response 20% of the time.

In that same study they found that 90% of the humor that men use was off-the-cup humor, kind of conversationally in the moment, and 70% of the humor that women use was self-defeating humor or self-deprecating humor. And so, that brings me to a third style of humor. So, we have affiliative humor, we have self-enhancing humor, there is a self-defeating humor. And self-defeating humor is where you kind of poke fun at yourself. It’s a negative form of humor that you poke fun at yourself which can be great in a high-status position but it’s not great, one, if you’re low-status position.

And so, there’s obviously some challenges certainly with women in the workplace in terms of how status is sometimes perceived that something that we, as a society, need to work on, but it’s something that people should be conscious of. And, two, self-defeating humor works when it is used sparingly. Like, if you constantly always use it, so the women that were using self-defeating humor 70% of the time, the problem is that people stop laughing at it, because they’re like, “Ah, does this person have kind of self-esteem issues or is this a pity party? I don’t think that I should laugh.”

And so, recognizing just the style of humor that you’re using and who you are, how it’s perceived, it is an important thing to keep in mind. So, that’s just one thing that I want to say. So, stick to typically more affiliative and self-enhancing humor is going to be a little bit more helpful for you.

And the last thing that I’ll say before we get to the five questions is if people are feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like this seems like a lot, it seems like there’s a lot to go into, the last strategy, so we have 10 humor strategies that we talk about in the book, the last bonus strategy is to simply practice or strive for one smile per hour. Just try to think about one thing that you can do each hour of the day that brings a smile to your face or the face of someone else and that gets to a starting point, right?

Just think about, “Okay, I’m going into this meeting. How can I elicit one smile?” Or, “I’m getting ready to have my commute home, what’s one thing that I can do to make myself smile?” And that starts to help you develop your humor habit, then you can get into some of the more complex details stuff that we talked about a little bit later and that we talked about today, but it really starts with kind of that choice and choosing to kind of practice one thing each hour.

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

Drew Tarvin
Sure. So, a favorite quote I would say, I heard this many, many years ago, and it’s a cliché but it’s the best career advice that I’ve ever been given, which is that, “It is better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Drew Tarvin
So, there’s a great humor and problem-solving study that, they took three groups of kids. One group of kids watched a comedy video, one group of kids watched a math video, one group of kids watched no video whatsoever. They then had to do a pretty known problem called the candlestick problem, and the kids who watched a comedy video were nearly four times more likely to solve the problem than the kids who watched the math video or no video at all. So, it just kind of showed that, one, comedy is a way to warm up the brain. It helps you see different solutions and different ideas, and it introduced me to the candlestick problem which I think is kind of a fun problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite book? My favorite book of all time is The Complete Anthology of Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson.

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

Drew Tarvin
Evernote. One of the big things for being a humorist is to keep a humor notebook. Anytime you’re going throughout the world, and something kind of piques your curiosity, write that down in a notebook somewhere. And I personally use Evernote so that it’s always on me whether I’m on my computer or on my phone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Drew Tarvin
Favorite habit? I would say if I can complete it in five minutes, I actually do the task rather than putting it on the to-do list or waiting to save it to do it later.

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

Drew Tarvin
The one smile per hour, I think, is sometimes popular and I think the idea that, again, that humor isn’t about making the workplace funny. It’s about making the workplace more fun.

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

Drew Tarvin
If they want to learn more about humor in the workplace, they can go to HumorThatWorks.com. We’ve got plenty of free blog articles and resources there, free newsletter they can sign up for, also access to the book, the online course, some of the workshops that we offer. If they want to connect with me, if they like puns, I like tweeting out puns and things like that, so if they want to connect with me on social media, if they have specific questions, they can find me @drewtarvin on any of the social media.

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

Drew Tarvin
Yeah, I would say just start, right? You choose every single day how you’re going to do your work, so why not choose to be more productive, less stressed and happier, why not choose to get better results and have more fun, why not choose humor that works?

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Drew, this has been fun. I wish you lots of luck and laughter in all you’re up to.

Drew Tarvin
Absolutely. Thanks so much for having me.

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.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Gret 

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gret Glyer Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, my COO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bold claim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Yeah, I bet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gret Glyer
Thank you, Pete.