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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Diane

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

 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

Diane DiResta
It’s great to be back.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting.

Diane DiResta
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Where does one do that?

Diane DiResta
Through eSpeakers.

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

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

[03:31]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Yes, but not for CEO.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
True.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
John Lee Dumas, the Logitech H390.

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

[15:50]

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

Diane DiResta
Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
And even then, things can go wrong.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my gosh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is cool.

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

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

Diane DiResta
The Training Arcade.

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
The spinning wheel?

Pete Mockaitis
What was that?

Diane DiResta
That is called WheelofNames.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Wheel of Names. Okay. Very cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Diane DiResta
So, the more variety, the better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

592: How to Speak with Effortless Confidence with Caroline Goyder

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Caroline

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Caroline Goyder Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline Goyder
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline Goyder
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caroline Goyder
Exactly. Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
The Science Guy?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Bill Nye, The Science Guy?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Okay.

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

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

Caroline Goyder
My website CarolineGoyder.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

 

About Steve

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

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Steve Herz Interview Transcript

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

Steve Herz
Thank you for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steve Herz
It’s needy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s great.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

560: How to Resolve Conflict and Boost Productivity through Deep Listening with Oscar Trimboli

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Oscar Trimboli says: "The most important thing to listen to is what's not said."

Oscar Trimboli explains how to increase your impact through sharpening your listening.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic phrases powerful listeners use
  2. How to expertly listen for what’s unsaid
  3. One question to ask the people you disagree with

About Oscar:

Oscar Trimboli is an author, host of the Apple award-winning podcast Deep Listening and a sought-after keynote speaker. He is passionate about using the gift of listening to bring positive change in homes, workplaces and cultures around the world. He is a marketing and technology industry veteran with over 30 years’ experience across general management, sales, marketing and operations for Microsoft, PeopleSoft, Polycom, Professional Advantage and Vodafone.

Oscar lives in Sydney with his wife Jennie, where he helps first-time runners and ocean swimmers conquer their fears and contributes to the cure for cancer as part of Can Too, a cancer research charity.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Oscar Trimboli Interview Transcript

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

Oscar Trimboli
Good day, Pete. I’m really looking forward to listening to your questions today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to listening to what you have to say. So, we’re talking listening and I want to sort of start off with a real strong why. Could you give us sort of like the case or a study or an example that reveals really what’s at stake when we listen well and what can be possible, and when we don’t listen well and how we’re suffering?

Oscar Trimboli
30th of December, Wuhan, China, Dr. Li has said to a group of his medical professionals, he’s an ophthalmologist, that he’s worried that the patients he’s seeing at the moment have SARS-like symptoms showing but it’s worse. And he publishes that on the local social media app that they use, and that gets seen by the Chinese government. And the next day, he’s visited by the Chinese government officials and told to recount what he said and everything he said is wrong.

And everybody ignored him, nobody was listening to him. And, as a result, we have the coronavirus that’s completely changed the world in 2020. That’s one of the costs of not listening. So, the costs of not listening can be quite significant. And in a lot of workplaces, Peter, people whose opinions are different, who may be seen as far out or different, they’re ignored, whether it was on the Deepwater Horizon’s oil rig in 2012 where a whole bunch of people, 11 got killed because engineers weren’t listened to.

But, also, the global financial crisis. Dr. Rajan was presenting a paper at Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2005 and actually predicted where the global financial crisis would play out but, again, he was ignored. He wasn’t listened to. Millions of jobs, billions of dollars of savings, and all of that variety. They are some of the big costs of not listening. In our workplaces, it creates confusion, it creates chaos, it creates conflict, it creates projects that go overtime, it creates lost customers, and it creates great employees who leave because their managers don’t pay attention to them. So, they are just a couple of the costs of not listening.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Oscar, you are nailing it. Yeah, those are huge costs. And so, we’re looking at listening then in a pretty broad perspective in terms of not just you and I in a conversation, and me absorbing what you’re saying, but the extent to which I am even accepting, adopting, choosing to acknowledge your views as valid, true, and possible.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, listening is the willingness to have your mind changed. Listening is the openness to hear what’s unsaid. Listening is making sure you’re listening with your head as well as your heart. And I think a lot of us think of listening as one-dimensional. We think of it as monochrome. We think of it as a very, very simple thing, but listening has got lots of nuance to it.

And, for many people, one of the exercises we always talk about in our workshops is go and listen to and consume media, it’s a podcast, it’s a TV show, go and read a blogpost from somebody you fiercely disagree with, and notice what’s happening in your mind while you’re fiercely disagreeing with them, because for a lot of us we get blocked by our own assumption filters.

My daughter-in law, when she was 21, she’s a Judo player, and Judo players have this incredibly high tolerance for pain, Peter, in a way I can never understand, that you would literally have to choke them before they would stop fighting on the mat. And Jen got hit by a car while she was riding her bike to training, and she was completely devastated because she had spent a lot of money saving for that bike, and that bike was her means of transport in an Olympic year. And she literally picked up the bike, put it on her shoulder, with a broken ankle, by the way, and went to a local emergency room and was treated by a doctor.

And the doctor was confused why Jen brought the bike into the ER because that bike was more important to her than her ankle at that moment. But what I’m curious about right now, Peter, is in your head, describe the doctor.

Pete Mockaitis
Describe the doctor. Well, I guess I was really visualizing the scene of your daughter with the bike and kind of limping, and so I’ve got very little on the doctor. The doctor, I guess, is inquisitive, it’s like, “Hey, why did you bring your bike?”

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. But, physically, gender-wise, height, weight, what sort of doctor are you visualizing right now?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, not much. He’s kind of faceless, I saw just more sort of like the white robe. But I guess if I were to kind get more into the picture, well, I kind of see my buddy, shoutout to Johnny, he’s a doctor, and so he looks like my buddy Johnny, who’s in his late 30s. He looks a little bit like the Property Brothers if you’ve ever seen that TV show, so that’s what I’m picturing.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And the doctor that saw Jen was 5’4” and an Indian woman. And, again, so the point of the story is, yeah, the bike and all of that, but a lot of us go into conversations where we have our own assumptions from our own experience base that filter how we listen, and we’re not even conscious of these things that are getting in our way when it comes to listening. And a lot of that is really initially caused by our internal distractions as well as our external distractions. A lot of us have our cellphone going, or a laptop, or some kind of tablet, something like that. So, we got all these external distractions but we’ve also got these internal distractions as well.

And, for a lot of us, we don’t even know it’s happening. We just aren’t even at that point of consciousness because we’re so distracted coming into the conversation. So, for most of you listening right now, it’s happening now. You’re distracted while you’re listening to Peter and myself. You might be commuting. You might be preparing a meal. But your mind is wandering in a completely different direction.

So, I wanted to give a commercial break to the neuroscience of listening, if that’s okay, Peter. Right now, I speak at about 125 words a minute. You’re a little quicker, about 150, and if you’re auctioning cattle, you’re at about 200 words per minute. But you can listen at 400 words per minute so you fill in the gaps because your mind gets bored and your mind is distracted. So, this is the 125/400 rule that says, “I speak at 125 words a minute, you listen at 400.” And if you don’t notice this gap, you’re going to drift away.

Now, it’s okay. I do it myself when I spend all day training people on how to listen, but the big difference between me and anybody else is I know when I’m distracted before you do, so I come back into the conversation much faster. So, it’s really, really important if you understand the neuroscience of listening, that I speak at 125-words a minute, you listen at 400, you’re going to get bored and distracted. It’s okay. You just come back in. And we’ll talk about some tips later on about how to notice and what to do about it when you drift away.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing. And I heard another stat about how we can think even faster than the 400 words per minute. And I guess when we’re thinking, we’re not even thinking in subvocalized words there.

Oscar Trimboli
No. You’re absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I’ve tried that in prayer, like I would think the Rosary prayer as fast as I can think the words, and it’s quick. It’s quicker than like a talk, yeah. But it’s still maybe it is around 400. It’s not much beyond that.

Oscar Trimboli
On average, it’s 900 words a minute you can think at. That’s nearly double your listening speed. Some people can do up to 1600 words a minute think, and right down at the other end of the Bell curve is about 600 that, welcome to the speaker’s problem. And this is why it’s critical that everybody understand the most important thing you need to listen to is what’s not said. I know it feels like Yoda just stepped onto the podcast. How do you listen to what’s not said? But it’s really critical.

If you understand the neuroscience of speaking, you speak at 125 to 150 words a minute, you’ve got 900 stuck in your head, that means the likelihood that the first thing that comes out of your mouth is what you mean, that’s 11%. One in nine chance that what you say as a speaker is what you mean. Therefore, if you want to have a powerful conversation with somebody, you want to get the next 125 words out, and the next 125 words out. And if you can get to about 300 words out of their thoughts, you’re probably getting closer to what they mean.

And this is another distinction, Peter, when it comes to listening. As a listener, it’s not your job to make sense of what they say. It’s your job to help them make sense of what they’re trying to say. Now that’s a really big difference, and what that means is most of us, our mind is like a closed washing machine. We’re in wash mode when we’re thinking, and it’s sudsy, and it’s agitated, and it’s like the water is dirty, and we’re moving but we’re not making progress. And the minute the rinse cycle comes on in a washing machine, out flushes all that wonderful clear water, and that’s exactly what it’s like when you speak.

Your mind is wired differently while you speak, while you think, and you make much more sense of what you say by saying it aloud than saying it inside your own head. So, powerful listeners will use these magic phrases. Michael Bungay Stanier did a wonderful job of talking about a couple of these on past two episodes ago for you. And he talked about the phrase “tell me more,” “what else,” and, “use silence.” These are three powerful techniques in that moment where you ask somebody “What else?” Something magic happens to the human mind.

And, Peter, tell me if it’s happened for you. People kind of tilt their head, they’ll breathe out, and they’ll say, “Well, actually, you know what we should talk about?” or, “Peter, you know what’s really important for us right now? Not what we’re talking about. I need to talk about this.” And for a lot of people, they’re out there nodding because it’s a real-life experience. But most of us just talk to the first thing they say rather than trying to understand what they really want to mean.

And if you’re in your role, whether you’re a manager or you’re working with your manager, making sense of what people mean, not what they say, makes work quicker. You work on the important things that have impact, not the transactional things, and listening helps you get to the result in a much quicker way, with a much bigger impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful. And so then, the points you’re making with those numbers associated with the first 125 word in the first minute, there’s 11% chance that that’s what I really want to say, you’re saying it’s so important to not just respond to that and we’re off to the races. “You’ve spoken for a minute therefore I know what we’re talking about and I’m going,” but rather draw it out for a few more minutes, and then we’re going to get at the good stuff. And we save time because instead of spending, I’m just going to make up numbers, instead of spending 15 minutes talking about the thing that’s not the thing, we can spend five minutes listening to get the real thing, and then go from there.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And in a lot of modern workplaces, we’re dealing with issues that are really complex, that don’t have just single or binary responses that are possible. Whether you’re in a creative role, or you’re in software development, or you’re in professional consulting, it doesn’t matter what profession you’re in, if you’re in the medical profession right now, there’s so much complexity and multiple and exponential vectors that you’re dealing with on a topic.

The likelihood that the very first thing that either of you talk about is the result or the possibilities. Whenever you’re stuck in these binaries, if you’re arguing A versus B, or one versus two, or red versus blue, the critical thing to ask yourself the question is, “What’s the third possibility? And what’s the fourth possibility?” And that’s only going to come about by listening.

On the days where we’re just doing tasks that require us to think one step ahead, we have to anticipate many things today in the imagination economy, because we’ve kind of moved from the information economy to the imagination economy, and our imagination can open up so many more possibilities. And that’s why one of my favorite quotes from Peter Drucker is, “The most important part of communication is listening to what’s not said.” And if we spent some more time there, the confusion, the conflict, the chaos in our workplace would go away.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s get after a little bit more how one does that effectively. So, there’s not jumping at the first minute, there’s kind of more encouragement of “tell me more” and “what else.” What are some of the other best practices that can get us to identifying and listening for what’s not said?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, I think we have to wind this way back, Peter, and start at the very foundational part of listening. And you can’t listen to anybody else till you listen to yourself. So, the very first part of listening is listening to yourself. Most of us turn up to a conversation with a radio station playing in our head that’s a completely different frequency to the conversation we’re just about to go into. We’re going from a meeting to a meeting, we’re going from a phone call to a phone call, and we’re still processing the last thing that was in our head.

So, getting ready to listen is more important than actually listening. In our database, we do proprietary research ourselves, 1410 people who are listeners, who have put up their hands, and said, “Help! Help! We need help in improving our listening.” We’ve been tracking them for two and a half years. And 86% of them say the thing that gets in the way of listening is not how they’re having a conversation with the speaker. Eighty-six percent of them say what’s getting in the way is the distractions before the conversation commences.

And some of those distractions are a story that they might have in their head about, “Oh, well, the last time I had a conversation with Peter was really wacky and the conversation didn’t go so well. And what’s he going to show up here because he’s a really unpredictable character?” or, “The last time I had a conversation with Peter, it was really, he is really dense and detailed, and I really didn’t make sense of it.” And you’re turning up to that conversation in that posture, and that’s your internal distraction, let alone your external distractions.

Most people walk in with their electronic devices of some sort, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s a meeting, whether it’s a team meeting, we’re distracted internally and externally. So, I would always encourage people to do three things to get ready, to get that foundation right, when it comes to listening.

Step number one. Remove the electronic devices. And if that sounds like cold turkey, then put them in flight mode, that’s my big request. Just put them in flight mode so you remove the dings, the bings, the buzzes, the beeps, all those notification things that are going to come across your devices. Tip number two, drink water. Most of us turn up to a conversation with a cup of coffee only. I’m not anti-coffee, I’m not pro-coffee. I don’t have a position on coffee. Drink water. A hydrated brain is a listening brain. Or Red Bull, I don’t have a position on Red Bull either, Peter.

A hydrated brain is a listening brain. Now, why does it matter? The brain is only 5% of the body mass, yet it consumes 26% of the blood sugars. The best way to get your brain operating in a place that’s optimal for listening is to drink a glass of water every half an hour. So, a hydrated brain is…

Pete Mockaitis
Is it 8 ounces, 16 ounces, or how big is this glass of water we’re drinking every half hour?

Oscar Trimboli
However big your glass is. Most people don’t even drink water, Peter, so I’m not really worried about the size of the glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thinking if you’re awake for 16 hours, are we talking about 32 glasses of water?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, so a properly hydrated high-performing corporate athlete should be drinking about two liters of water a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Oscar Trimboli
So, most people go, “Wow, that’s quite a lot of water.” But if you’re exercising effectively and you’re moving through the day, two liters of water is enough. So, a standard can of whatever your favorite soda is about the size of the glass I’d be thinking about right now for anybody there. So, hydration is really critical because a lot of people say when they concentrate during the process of listening, their brain hurts. They walk out of a conversation, they literally hold their head, and that’s got nothing to do with the act of listening. It’s got to do with the fact that they’re dehydrated. So, if we’re hydrated, we’re going to be in a better position.

And the third thing is just it sounds so basic. Take three deep breaths. And I’m not talking yoga pose kind of breaths. I’m just saying, in through your nose, down the back of your throat, all the way down to the bottom of your diaphragm, and then back out through your mouth. And for me, the way I make this practice simple for me, if I’m going to see a client, Peter, when I cross the lobby in a building, I’m going to switch off my phone the minute I cross the lobby, put it in my bag, go into the elevator, put my back against the elevator wall, take three deep breaths. And by the time I come out, I’m going to reception, they offer me a refreshment, so I always ask for a glass of water for me and the guest.

And in that moment, my mind is ready to start to listen. We’re going to get onto the techniques of what happens during the dialogue shortly. But it’s so critical that we all understand you need to be ready to listen. Most of us aren’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, some hydration, some deep breaths, and you’re sort of prepping the…I’m kind of imagining like if you’re painting a wall, it’s like there’s the prep, and then there’s the application of the paint. So, in the prepping, you support or else you’re not going to get a great end result there. All right. So, let’s say we’ve done that. Good news, we’re ahead of the game. What do we go forward with in the actual conversation?

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, a lot of us spend too much time in the first kind of conversation thinking about what we’re discussing. And one of the things that sets up a great conversation is how.

Pete Mockaitis
How we’re discussing it?

Oscar Trimboli
How we’re discussing it. What would make a great conversation for us today? By the time we’re finished, what would you like to do? Now, all the research we’ve done, Peter, is on the workplace. I always put this by “Beware” announcement, “Please do not try this at home with your loved ones. They’ll see right through it.” It’s really critical. When I speak, most people come up to me or ask me questions from stage, saying, “Oscar, how do I get my wife, my husband, my partner, my loved one, to listen to me?” And men tend to listen to fix, and women tend to listen to feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Fix? I’m going to fix this?

Oscar Trimboli
Yes. So, men are very solution-orientated. So, a “how” question is, if you come home during the day, like this is a thing that transformed my relationship with my wife. In the early days, she’d go, “Oh, this is what happened in my day,” and I’d go, “Oh, yeah. Did you try this?” And she’s like she would get so furious because I was trying to fix it. She just wants to be listened to. And what I do now is I simply say, “Is this a conversation where you want me to listen or is this a conversation where you want some suggestions?” And 99 out of a 100, it’s just to listen, but in the odd case, she goes, “Yeah, I’d like some alternatives.”

And the same is true in the workplace. Most of us don’t agree out front how the conversation should be orientated. Is it a brainstorming conversation? Is it a conversation where we’re looking to make progress? That context is always king. But most of us don’t take the time to create the context at the beginning. What would make this a great meeting for you? What’s an outcome you would like to achieve from this meeting? Then we can actually get into the dialogue and explore the five levels of listening that we can kind of sequence as we go into that conversation, around listening for context, and listening for content, listening for the unsaid, and, ultimately, listening for meaning.

I would say this, there’s a lot of big people out there saying really important things about it’s crucial to understand the why. And when it comes to listening, why can feel judgmental. When you ask a lot of why-based questions at the beginning of a dialogue where you have low trust or low relationship with somebody, please be careful. Whether it’s FBI hostage negotiators I’ve spoken to, or telephone-based suicide counselors, why questions are loaded with judgment where when you ask somebody, “So, why do you do that at your company?”

You can achieve exactly the same result by simply asking them, “How does the approval process work at your organization?” as opposed to, “Oh, why does your company do approvals that way?” Same question, very different orientation. And I think, for a lot of us, what we’re not listening to is the actual way we’re dialoguing ourselves, and we need to be asking more how- and what-based questions, and a lot less why-based questions as well, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. You know, it’s so funny, as we were talking, my phone is sort of buzzing, and it’s like, “What? I’ve got it on Do Not Disturb,” but it was an emergency notification about fixing clothes with the coronavirus. So, anyway, even when I’ve set it to Do Not Disturb, distractions, interruptions can emerge. But point well-taken with the why question puts you on the defensive, it’s like, “Well,” you feel like you need to justify it, and you’re more likely, you kind of dig into it, so excellent. Well, then, can you bring us deeper, then, into these five levels of listening?

Oscar Trimboli
Well, a lot of us are taught to listen to content level two. So, level one is listen to yourself. Level two is listening to the content, and that’s interesting. Most of us are listening for words and, occasionally, body language, but a lot of time we’re not listening for state, we’re not listening for where people’s energy is at. And I’m not doing that from a woohoo perspective, but I was working with Peter who was…complex merger he was undertaking about two and a half years ago, and he was just going on and on about how frustrating it was, how unfair it was, that he shouldn’t be running the integration. The company being acquired, why are they asking him to do that?

And something just shifted in his head, and his shoulders moved a little bit more upright, and he just kept going on and on and on and on. And I went back, and I said, “You know, Peter, when we’re talking about that, you did this with your body.” And he looked at me, and he went, “Wow, I didn’t think you noticed.” And I said, “Well, when you shifted, your whole body moved.” And he said, “What I did in that moment, Oscar, was I realized I was listening to myself, and I couldn’t stand what I was saying, and I made a decision that I have to take responsibility for the merger.” And I said, “So, what decision have you made?” And he said, “I’m completely responsible for everything going forward.” I said, “But you spent the next seven minutes still complaining.” And he said, “Yeah, I guess I’m habituated into that right now.”

But for most us, our heads are buried in our laptop, or our cellphone, we wouldn’t have noticed that. So, looking at somebody from pretty much from the shoulders up is really critical when it comes to listening to content. When I talk about listening for context, this is really critical. Most of us don’t understand the backstory to any conversation. We turn up like we walked into a movie theater 35 minutes into the movie, and we’re trying to figure out, “Who are these characters? And what’s the plot? And when they’re all laughing, what am I missing out on?” And most of us don’t take the time to simply say, “Can we get back to the beginning? When did this all start?”

And, slowly, by putting those pieces of context into place, it’s not important for you. Yes, you’ll make sense of it, but it’s more important for them. So, one of the powerful questions that you always want to ask is, “When did this start?” But for a lot of people, whether you’re in sales, or professional consulting, and all of that, most of the time you’ll take a brief, but you only take the brief at that point in time, “What we’re looking to do in the future is X, Y, Z.” That’s interesting. But what’s really important is, “How did they get there?” And if you just take one moment to ask that question, that context will create a beautiful landscape for you guys to dialogue on that makes sense for everybody. You know all the actors in the movie now, and you can make sense and laugh at the punchlines like everybody else does.

We spent a bit of time at level four talking about what’s unsaid. And then level five is listening for meaning. What’s the meaning that they’re making from the conversation? I was working with a pharmaceutical company about four years ago. Have you ever walked into a building, Peter, where you feel the tension dripping out of the elevator ducts, out of the air-conditioning ducts? It’s like there’s just this tension in the room. So, that’s the organization I was walking into. I was asked to speak to the people leader community in this organization, and 20 minutes in, I just felt the room. There was this tension. And I turned to the managing director of this manufacturing pharmaceutical plant, and I said, “Look, with your permission, I’d just like to try something different.” And he gave me the most dismissive look, and said, “Well, if you must.”

Pete Mockaitis
If you must.

Oscar Trimboli
Now, I said, “I’d prefer to do it with your permission,” and he said, “Oh, go ahead.” And all of this is going through my head as well, “I’m not getting paid for this.” And I said to the room, “Hey, look, just turn to the person next to you and tell the person next to you what movie is going on in this manufacturing plant right now.” And the room explodes into laughter, and they’re all chatting away, and the tension is completely broken.

And the CEO steps up on stage next to me, puts his hand behind my back and switches off my lapel mic, and basically looks me straight in the eye, and said, “This is not on brief.” And I said, “Mark, can’t you feel what’s going on in this room?” And he says, “I’ve got no idea what you’re talking about.” I said, “Look, just give me five minutes. We’re going to bring the room back and we’ll try to make sense of what’s going on because something is going on here. There’s a lot of tension in this room. And if not, just kick me offstage.” And he goes, “All right. Look, I’ll trust you.” And he went back down and sat down.

Now, what you’re going to imagine, it’s like popcorn in the room, everybody is bouncing off each other. And every time somebody announces what movie is going on, the room explodes into laughter like popcorn in a stove. And the movies they were coming back with was like Die Hard and Titanic and Towering Inferno. You imagine the disaster movie that we’re talking about. And what happened next was amazing. That CEO, who looked at me with disdain and disgust, came up, pointed at me, and told me to go and sit down in the chair in the corner, and I thought, “Oh, wow. This is a bit of a moment. I’ve never been told to get offstage.”

He stood up there in front of the room and did something that completely changed my perspective on leadership. He stood up and said, “I’m really sorry that coming to work feels like a disaster movie for everybody here. We’ve been trying to solve this problem for three weeks. I need your help. I don’t know all the answers. What I’ve learnt today is something that changed my mind. And for the balance of our time together, I’m going to invite Oscar back up on stage to see if he can help us navigate through this issue.”

And I was stunned in the humility, I was amazed in the eloquence, and the invitation for me to come back was exciting, and I simply said to the room, “Who aren’t we listening to right now?” Peter, honestly, I didn’t even know what the issue was. All I knew is they thought it was a disaster. And it was that permission slip to say, “What movie is going on?” that helped the room create meaning for what was going on.

Now what they discovered was there was a pipe that a frontline worker had told the business about six months ago that required maintenance but he was ignored. And in our discussion about “Who aren’t we listening to?” they said, “People in the production line,” because these were all pansy-pants, Six Sigma, chemical engineers, Masters, PhDs, and they were all trying to solve a problem that was seemingly solved within a couple of days, and then it would come back a couple of days later. But it was a 35-year old line veteran who had worked on exactly the same line for 35 years who had pointed out six months ago, “This pipe needed maintenance,” and he got frustrated because he got shot down, and said, “We can’t afford to slow production down for just that pipe.” That was costing them tens of millions of dollars in backed-up stock because they couldn’t go through quality assurance because of impurities there.

So, I think, ultimately, for all of us, every conversation is not going to be a $10-million conversation, Peter, every conversation is not going to be the coronavirus, every conversation is not going to be the global financial crisis. But if we go in with a willingness to have our mind changed, there’ll be less conflict, chaos, and confusion in our personal lives and in our work lives. And that’s something worth fighting for.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, there’s a lot of great stuff there. And I love those particular questions in terms of “Who aren’t we listening to?” and “What movie is playing right here?” because then I think that can, you’re right, that is like a lighthearted way to get after…

Oscar Trimboli
Tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
What do you see? Is it a disaster? Is it a romantic comedy? Is it Office Space? Like none of us are really doing anything. Is it Up in the Air? It’s funny because that can spark a lot of things. And so, I’m curious, and I wanted to ask this at the beginning, but I’m glad you brought it up again. When listening is the willingness to have our minds changed, and you’d say read something from someone you completely disagree with and notice what’s happening in your brain. Well, so, let’s say we do conduct that exercise, or we are just talking in real time with a real person saying something we wildly disagree with, what’s the right way to run our brains to manage it in terms of it’s like, “Oscar is full of malarkey. That’s ridiculous. Has he been to my workplace?”

Oscar Trimboli
It’s even simpler. We’ve all got an uncle or an aunt at Thanksgiving table that we know we’re going to disagree with. Every year they say the same things, and we all think they’re crazy, and they all think we’re crazy too. And simply asking them this question, “When did you   form this perspective? When did you first form this opinion? When did you first…?” whatever it is. It will short-circuit their mind because their mind is literally on a rotating play. It’s that list in your music play that just is on repeat over and over and over again, and nothing is going to break that circuitry unless you go, “When was the first time that happened to you?”

So, I was talking to a family officer. So, a family officer works in very large private companies, typically with the founders, and they were very frustrated with the founder around the way they thought about cost control. To say they counted the pennies would be wrong. They want to make sure that we’ve not only counted the pennies, but we’ve stored the pennies. That was the kind of description we’re getting about the founder. And I simply said to the family officer, “Go back and ask them when they first formed this opinion.” And they went back to the story and explained that in the ‘50s there was a rationing in the UK, petrol wasn’t easy to find, there was no fresh fruit, and there was this whole story.

And the founder, in that moment, said, “Times are very different now.” And then he smiled, and he said, “Times are very different now. Maybe it’s time for me to loosen up a bit.” And in that moment, that family officer was able to change his mind by going back and asking him the question, “When did you first form this perspective?” Because in helping people go back in time, they can notice the distance between that event and now, because a lot of those events that create that play track, Peter, they’re very seminal, they’re very foundational, they’re very emotional. They’re in the part of the brain that’s in the primitive part of the brain and they’re stored really deeply.

And us arguing with somebody about why they’re wrong on that topic, you’ve got about as much chance as flying as a human without a plane as convincing somebody who’s got a deep-seated emotional experience that they’re wrong. You have to ask them the question when did they form that opinion, and it will take them back to that moment. And give them permission to pull that memory out and choose. They might choose to keep it, but in a lot of times they’ll throw it away and go, “Hey, time to change,” or, “This situation is different,” or, “Maybe we can explore something a little bit more.”

So, when you get frustrated with someone you deeply, deeply disagree with, and you’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to just speak to them, just ask them when did they first form this perspective. That will help change your perspective but, more importantly, theirs.

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

Oscar Trimboli
Look, I just always want to reinforce that if you just focus on removing the electronic devices, if you hydrate and drink a glass of water every 30 minutes, and if you breathe deeply, you’ll be ready to listen. And when you’re ready to listen, you’ll be able to make a big impact, and impact beyond words, because for most us, we’re trying desperately to listen to the other person while there’s a big, big radio station playing on in our head, Peter. So, devices off, drink water, take three deep breaths, and that’ll put you in an awesome position for the conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And now, how about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Oscar Trimboli
Consistently, it would be Peter Drucker’s quote around communication is an illusion, and the most important thing we don’t listen to in communication is what’s unsaid. And that kind of triggered a whole bunch of research for me, and started the journey for 1410 people to go, “What am I not hearing?” when it comes to my research around listening. And he passed away about three years ago, but he was a prolific writer, he was a prolific person who led a lot of corporate thought, and he’s somebody who thought about things deeply.

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

Oscar Trimboli
My favorite research was where in 1993 in Ottawa, Canada, they discovered that if you breathed and if you listened, they had 414 students paired off, and they had a little device connected to their fingers to measure their oxygen, their current O2 rate. And what they noticed is that people with a higher O2 rate were having more productive conversations, which was interesting. But what was the most interesting was, the most productive conversations, so they were self-rated by the students, the most productive conversations, the O2 level was synchronized. So, people were literally breathing at the same rate. So, that was something for me.

That’s why I always say to people, in one of our listening exercises, “Hey, how did you go with your breathing?” And they always go, “Oh, yeah, I did the three deep breaths and it was great.” And I said, “Did you notice the breathing of the speaker?” And most times they’ll say no, but those at a high-level of consciousness might say yes, and they go, “I realized I had to slow down the speaker’s breathing.” And I said, “How did you do that?” And most people will say, “Well, I just asked them to slow down.” But the really expert role model, great leaders, literally just slowed their speaking down, which slowed down the heartrate in the body, which got the oxygen up.

So, those kinds of studies where you’re integrating both the physiology of listening with the actual impact of listening from Canada in 1993, that research to me is just amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Oscar Trimboli
I’m a big James Clear fanboy at the moment. I’ve been reading Atomic Habits probably once a month at the moment for the last 14 months.

Pete Mockaitis
A habit itself.

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah. And he’s got a quote in there that you don’t rise to the level of your goals. You’re pulled to the level of your systems. I’d say James’ book is a well-put together book, but it’s also, I’ve read a lot in 35 years, probably one of the best written nonfiction books I’ve read.

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

Oscar Trimboli
It’s really a basic one, it’s one called TextExpander, Peter.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. They’re our first sponsor, and I use it daily.

Oscar Trimboli
Oh, I would say eight to 12 times a day, TextExpander is saving me five to 10 minutes a day. And whether it’s a quick comment or reply to something, or just common phrases that I use, and things like that, it’s just a brilliant tool to kind of automate my brain. I love TextExpander.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Oscar Trimboli
My favorite habit is really simple, and it’s changed dramatically in the last three weeks because of what’s happening. But on a Wednesday night, I swim or I run. I run in winter. I swim in summer. And Saturday morning, I run or I swim. I don’t meditate but I think running and swimming is my meditation. these physical habits are really important keystone habits to everything else that happens in my life.

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

Oscar Trimboli
Yeah, but it’s a quote from Yoda, “Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” and it’s something that can either set you free or frustrate you because sometimes I work really hard on the wrong things, and I have to realize later on that they weren’t the right things. And sometimes it’s the right thing to do and I just need to try a little harder to break through.

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

Oscar Trimboli
Just go to the ListeningQuiz.com where you can figure out what kind of listening villains get in your way, and a very personalized three-step plan what to do about it as well at ListeningQuiz.com.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Oscar, it’s been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and many enjoyable conversations.

Oscar Trimboli
Thanks for listening.

548: How to Get Your Points Across Clearly with Davina Stanley

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Davina Stanley says: "Think first."

Davina Stanley shares expert strategies for communicating with greater clarity.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why so many business presentations miss the mark
  2. The three-step “So what?” strategy
  3. The seven storyline patterns and when to use them

About Davina:

Davina Stanley has helped professionals communicate complex ideas clearly for more than 20 years. She offers a structured, ‘go to’ process that helps people think through their messaging so their good ideas get the traction they deserve.

She started coaching others when she joined McKinsey’s Hong Kong office as a communication specialist and has continued to help professionals of all stripes across many countries since then.

More recently she, along with her business partner, have published their first book The So What Strategy, which offers the seven most commonly used storyline patterns they see professionals use at work.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Divina Stanley Interview Transcript

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

Davina Stanley
My pleasure, Pete. Lovely to be with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom. But, first, I wanted to hear a bit, your career has had some interesting turns, and it started with potato farming in Australia. What’s the story here?

Davina Stanley
It did. I grew up on a potato farm, actually, in the country. And the beauty of that is that you have to constantly solve problems without having the resources that you need. And so, it was just a really great place to grow up, but a really big contrast to where I ended up. So, I ended up marrying someone who wanted to live overseas, and he wanted to be a banker, so we lived in Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and then back to Australia again. So, we have been not quite everywhere but a lot of places, which is quite different to the sort of life that I started out with. It’s so fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, if you lived on a potato farm, does that mean you eat potatoes all the time, because I love potatoes?

Davina Stanley
Well, at the moment, I do too but I’m a bit conflicted because, at the moment, I don’t eat a lot of carb at all, so, I don’t know. I haven’t told my dad that though. I think he’d be thoroughly mortified. I think he’d be devastated.

Pete Mockaitis
Make sure he doesn’t listen.

Davina Stanley
We grew up on a diet of Sunday nights testing the load before it went to the potato chip factory, so dinner on a Sunday night, particularly during winter, was potato chips and donuts because you had the oil out, right? So, totally different than what I do now.

Pete Mockaitis
Potato chips and donuts.

Davina Stanley
Jam donuts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man, as a child it’s a dream come true.

Davina Stanley
We thought that. We thought that. We just had to look at the potatoes and there are the chips, or fries, as you probably call them, and make sure that there were no green or black bits. It’s just there was too much sugar in them. That was our job. Test them. You see, that was the whole point, it was not just cheap food or bribery for the children. It was actually, there was a method, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Davina Stanley
Are they still good to send to the factory? Hmm.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool and that’s fun. And I remain a huge potato enthusiast as well as a communications enthusiast, which is your cup of tea nowadays, and really for more than 20 years here. So, you worked in McKinsey as a communications specialist. Can you tell us what does that mean and what are you doing now?

Davina Stanley
So, as a communications specialist, my job was to be all across a technique called structured thinking that we used, particularly, in our role in a communication setting. So, we use a very structured approach to either help consultants come up with the stories that they needed to tell their clients, perhaps it was an update, perhaps it was the strategy at the end of a piece of communication, or also when working directly with clients, we would sometimes go in and be embedded in a team and work with a client to develop a communications strategy. So, we would be using those techniques to help consultants engage and really communicate complex information to any kind of audience that they needed to communicate to. So, we were internal consultants to the consultants really.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Consulting consultants on how to consult.

Davina Stanley
Yeah, a little bit. Exactly. And, look, it was really fun, it was really challenging. And so, I worked there for a few years in the Hong Kong office, and then my husband and I moved to New York, and I was offered a full-time position there but it was full time or no time, and I arrived six months pregnant with the one-year old on my hip, so I decided maybe that was a good time to take a break.

So, I took a bit of a break and we renovated the house and so on. And  then when we moved further on in our adventure, I just freelanced for the firm for a long time and I was helping run training sessions, I worked for the marketing practice, I did a whole lot of things, anything where I could help the teams or the firm in terms of communication.

So, I kept doing that and it just sort of gradually built it as my family has grown older and I’ve had more freedom. I’ve built it into something larger.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating. And I want to hear, when it comes to, you know, McKinsey consultants are amongst the smartest professionals in their way, or our way. I’m former Bainy, so we share some of the brand parts.

Davina Stanley
We do. We share a bit of a passion here, around the structure, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
But I’d love to hear from you. So, given that, so even super smart folks, what communications mistakes did you see that they made repeatedly, like you could just bank on, “Okay, we’re going to have fix A, B, and C”?

Davina Stanley
All right, so there’s a few things. I think, firstly, it’s spending a lot of time on the analysis, and you should spend a lot of time on the analysis, but leaving that a bit too long and allowing too little time to prepare the communication so that there’s the risk that all these great ideas you’ve got don’t translate to the audience. So, finding a way to perhaps marry the analysis together with the communication planning, or just allow a bit more time to really think through the messaging and synthesize. So, I think anyone who’s really close to some things, smart people or not, struggle to get just a bit of separation from it so that they can perhaps get up in the helicopter and see what really matters here. So, I think that’s one thing.

And I think, again, in this, I see it at McKinsey and other places too, where people are bidding clients to overemphasize the analyses and underemphasize the communication. So, similar thing but it’s just about, “Oh, what do I think really matters?” Actually, forgetting that communication matters quite a bit. So, that’s one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, you’ve sort of captured many of your ideas in your book The So What Strategy. What does that mean, the so what strategy?

Davina Stanley
So, I think we heard so many of our clients, people that we work with, saying things like, “You know, I presented to the leadership team, and I had prepared so hard, and I’d rehearsed, and I was so organized. I’d really invested in it and I went and I presented. Then, at the very end, the CEO or the leader, turned around and said, ‘Well, so are we in good shape or what’s the main thing here?’ and they just got lost in all of the detail.” And I think there’s something there that we saw happening time and time again, and people just didn’t really know how to go about distilling the messages.

And yet, when Gerard, my business partner and I would work on something together, we’d be listening to someone telling us their story. And we were talking with each other, and we realized, “Well, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it, it’s that one or it’s that one? It’s this pattern. It looks like that or it looks like that.” It’s pretty quick for us to come up with a skeleton.

And so, we thought, “Well, perhaps a way we can really help people is simplify the structured communication discipline, the rules, like put it into a process that we naturally use,” because we’ve just done it for so long.

And when we sat down and worked through them all, we thought, well, it looks to us like there’s about seven patterns that we see being used most commonly in the business communication that we work in. And when I say business, I mean professional. It could be consulting, it could be business, it could be government.

Pete Mockaitis
I see. So, well, then we got seven different common storyline patterns, and then you said there’s also a process. So, maybe can we hear the process first and then learn a bit about what are those patterns?

Davina Stanley
Sure. So, we talk about a three-phase process. First of all, design your strategy, secondly, develop your storyline, and then, thirdly, deliver your communication. So, most people jump straight to the deliver piece, “How can I write that PowerPoint? How can I build those charts? How can I write the paper?” So, we’re saying, “Hang on. Let’s become more conscious and structured in those steps that come before that.”

And so, design your strategy is all about being really clear about your purpose for this particular piece of communication, getting really dialed in as to what specifically you want from a particular piece of communication, and then understand your audience. Well, that’s, “Let’s go appropriately deep.” If it’s an email, you’re not going to go as deep as you are if it is, let’s say, a mergers pitch or something, so it’s scalable. But you’re going to go quite deep in understanding who your audience is, and what their hot buttons are, and really getting to understanding them very well.

So, you bring those together and then think also about your process. Who do you need to involve in the process of engaging other stakeholders in your journey? So, you’ve got that sort of set before you start. And then, once you’re fairly clear on that, you may iterate back, but fairly clear on that. Then it’s time to start mapping out your storyline. And we’ve built on other parts that I think you’d be familiar with, The Pyramid Principle, which was developed at McKinsey by a woman called Barbara Minto. And we’ve taken what she’s got there, and said, “Okay, how do we make this really practical and easy for people to use?” And we’ve altered the language a bit to really help people work out what the elements are for an introduction.

And, interestingly, the strategy and then the introduction, which might only be a couple of lines in your whole communication, can take quite a big proportion of the amount of time it takes to prepare the whole thing. But you’re sort of leading to that single question you want your audience to ask, and then working out what that answer is, and you’re stating that in a sentence.

So, when I was talking about people getting stuck in the detail, they very rarely have that single message that they need to convey, and they even, less regularly, have that next layer below it, which we described as being a grouping of ideas either as a least or structured to that logic. So, there’s some rules and some principles, and we’ve built a 10-point test to help people evaluate whether their ideas fit in the right place. We’re just very strong believers that if the thinking is clear, if the synthesis is strong, then you’ll engage even if you’re not very confident, or your chance aren’t beautiful, or your prose isn’t perfect. If your thinking is really clear, and you can synthesize your message, it’s really powerful.

So, we encourage people to map that out on a single page, and in a particularly structured way, use that to test with stakeholders what their thinking is at the high level before you build anything, which changes the dynamic in the workflow and the stakeholder engagement quite substantially, and reduces the rework, because, by the time you go to prepare your communication in that last stage of delivering your communication, so much of the work is done. It’s actually really fast to prepare whatever it is that you need to prepare.

So, it’s about being really intentional about those three steps. We draw them in a triangle because we think they’re iterative, and it’s a storyline that’s a shape like a triangle, to help people have a process to use themselves, but also when they’re collaborating. It’s much easier to collaborate.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. So, while you’re on your one page, at the top we have the question we want them to be asking and the answer to that question.

Davina Stanley
We have even a tiny bit before that, we have the introduction which we call the context and the trigger, and that leads to that single question, and then the main message, and then the supporting argument underneath, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, do you have a particular recommendation in terms of just how many supporting arguments do you want? Is too few too many? What do you say?

Davina Stanley
Absolutely. Two to five, so never just one, otherwise you’ve got just one point, so one dot point. Never do that. Don’t do that. But no more than five if you can possibly help it. And if you are using a deductive structure, then it shouldn’t be more than three.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, deductive, can you define that for listeners?

Davina Stanley
So, it’s a way of building a case. So, it allows you to put forward your reasoning in classic logic language with a major premise followed by a minor premise, something that comments on the original point. But together, those two points, the first two, lead you to the third one, which will be, “Therefore, we should do something. And here’s the set of things we should do.” So, you’re always building a case towards a set of actions. And so, that’s enormously powerful when you’ve got to persuade people that a set of actions is the right set of actions to take. Like a business case or we need to change their mind about something and get them to act in the same engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so could you maybe give us an example where we sort of affix these terms, these concepts, these labels, to some actionable verbiage or argument, bullet points, so we could sort of see how it all goes together?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, absolutely. So, perhaps if we talk about option stories because people, professionals, are often needing to put forward a set of options in terms of the way something might be handled. So, let’s say there’s a new computer system needs to be installed, and there might be a few different ways in which that could be done, and somebody has a view in mind that a particular path, maybe using a particular external vendor is the way to go, but, at the same time, they know that the leadership wants to see evidence that they’ve really considered a range of different ways of doing this, and they want to see their reasoning before they actually go and agree that this external vendor is the right way to go.

So, we’d be using what we call a “to be or not to be” pattern most likely, which is a deductive one. We’ve tried to give the patterns names so they’re memorable rather than just being deductive options, deductive or something. So, to be or not to be, so your main thought there would be that the big idea that overarches all of it would be, “Let’s hire a vendor X to install this system over the next six months,” or something like that.

And then the first point, the first of those three points that sits underneath, might be something like, “Look, we’ve looked at a whole lot of different ways that we might implement this software system,” and then you’d be going in and saying, “Well, we decided to investigate vendor X because they know our business really well, and they’re trusted by us. We decided to explore doing it ourselves because we thought it made sense to see whether we could do it internally, and we decided to explore another vendor because they’ve also got a good relationship with the bank,” let’s say their organization. So, you might explain why each one of those three is something worth considering.

And then in the next limb of the story, in that minor premise piece, you say, “However, we think vendor X is the best way to go.” And then underneath that, you’d be running through your criteria as to why you think that is the best way to go, and saying why they’re good and why the others ones are not going to be so fit for purpose. And so, by the end of that one, you’d want your audience to be in a place going, “Okay, that makes terrific sense. I’ve been able to discuss with you the pros and cons of this. I understand your thinking. I agree with you. So, okay, we should get vendor X. How do we do that?” And then they’d be ready to hear from you the set of steps that are there.

In fact, this is something that business leaders often talk to us about, about the lack of reasoning that people put forward. They very often go straight to, and you asked earlier about some of the challenges that I see consultants and others experiencing. And one of those would be the lack of why and not building the case, just saying, “Hey, we should have vendor X, and here’s how we should do it.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Well, is that just your opinion and you just like the guy over there, vendor X, and you think he’s funny. What are you working with there?”

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Is he your brother-in law?” I mean, why? Why do it? And I think part of that comes from all of us when we’re working on something, we’ve got to a certain point in our thinking and our work. So, somebody’s gone through the process, they’ve analyzed their options, they’ve thought about it carefully, they’ve made a decision that they believe is the right thing, and so in their mind they’re ready to say, “Look, let’s just go. We’re ready. I’m impatient. I want get this thing done,” and they just forget that the audience is in a different place, and that’s why in our process, we really encourage people to drill into their purpose and their audience because it could be that when communicating something like that, actually you’ve got to come to the leadership group a couple of times.

If it’s a really big spend, you’ve got to take them on a journey, and so you’ve got to be really aware of where the audience is on that. Do they just need to agree with you that these are the right things to explore? Because, actually, in your situation, analyzing all the options is a big piece of work. And if you do that, that means you’re not doing something else. So, maybe because of the amount of time that’s required, they want you to actually come to them and say, “Look, we think this project is worth investigating or these options are worth considering. Do you agree they’re the right options? Great. You agree they’re the right options. We’ll go away, we’ll do our analyses, and spend a month doing the analyses, or whatever is involved.”

So, design your strategy piece is really important in that regard.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And it’s interesting, as you convey that sort of what we want them to take away, it’s like, “Wow, you really thought this through. You’ve done your homework, you’ve done the research, the investigation, the analyses.” And it’s funny, as I’m imagining you telling the story with slides, it’s like I would love to see, I don’t know, like a funnel or something which is like, “Hey, you know what, we looked at 34 potential vendors.” It’s like, “Oh, dang, that’s a lot of vendors.” “And we subjected them to these five key criteria. And, really, only two are worth looking at any further.” It’s like, “All right. I’m convinced. You’ve done some legwork and now I’m intrigued. Tell me about these two vendors that are pushing all the right buttons.”

Davina Stanley
Exactly. Exactly. So, you would use a very different structure for your story when you’re going to that initial conversation about, “Hey, let’s explore these options,” versus, “Let’s implement the recommendation.” So, that’s where the patterns come into play too. And we’ve put them on a handy little card, actually, where we’ve got the seven, and it’s on the centerfold in the book so that you can see them all on the one page.

And what we find people doing is just knowing they’ve got to do a piece of communication that matters enough to really think hard about it, and then open it up and just look at the different options. Just looking at the patterns, I think, helps them say, “Well, it could be that or it could be that,” and it gives them a place to start, and it also helps frame their thinking. So, it’s like that situation I relayed where we came out with the name “So What.” So, what does this mean? You don’t want to be in a position where you are being picked apart by your audience. So, when you’re presenting something that matters to someone more senior, the last thing I think you want is to have your proposition pulled apart and to be asked to go away because your thinking isn’t strong enough.

So, the patterns provide you with a little bit of a framework too to help you think, “Well, actually, have I thought this through enough? Have I articulated this well enough?” If you work through the ten points in there, it’s a really good set of thinking tests to say, “Are my ideas meeting that?” Maybe you’re familiar with. X consultants are really familiar with this idea of are there any overlaps or any gaps, and is a complete set of ideas? Have I organized them well?” And if you apply that test really thoroughly, then all sorts of things pop out, it’s like, “Oh, my gosh, how did I miss that? I’ve got actions and reasons in the one list. Bad thing. They’re different. How do I fix that? What do I move? Do I change my message? Do I move things around?”

And you can imagine like sticky notes on a wall or something. And I see my clients do this where you put all your messages down, and you sort them all around, and move them about until they’re in the right spot. So, the patterns give you a bit of a framework for testing your thinking so you don’t get caught up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned 10 tests for thinking to say, “Have I done thoroughly enough?” So, could you share a couple more with us that tend to frequently yield insight?

Davina Stanley
We talked earlier about having a single question that overarches the whole story, it leads, it draws your audience in. So, if we’re to drill into that one particular thing, you’d want that question, which often doesn’t appear in the communication, it appears in your preparation, to be the audience’s question, not yours, which makes a very big difference to the story that comes underneath. You want it to be one single question. So, what does that mean? Well, if you’ve got the word “and” in it, that’s a red flag. Is it really a single idea?

So, being very precise about, “Is it the audience’s question? Is it the single question we want them to ask us? Is it a single question? Is it really just one or is it a long set of words, with a question mark at the end, that’s really an amalgamation of a whole lot of different things? Is it really just one? And have we distilled the highest-level question that we can then answer in a single sentence that will frame the whole story, not just part of it, but all of it?

So, getting quite disciplined about that, it pushes the thinking. And, I don’t know about you, but when I started working in this environment, I came from a creative environment, I was a kindergarten art teacher, of all things. I suspect I’m the only kindergarten teacher ever to be hired by McKinsey, but I stand to be corrected. I’d like to meet if there was someone else who’s also had that path. So, I learned about communicating in a fairly creative way. So, I learned from an Australian children’s author, a woman called Mem Fox, who has written the most stunning children’s books. I don’t know if you have children or not, but if you do, hunt down Possum Magic” and Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge. They’re two really beautiful children’s books, and she’s a beautiful writer. And she taught a really creative way of finding the hook and building a story, which is part of what inspired me to transition from teaching into communication.

And that sort of message of finding the hook is absolutely relevant, but using structure and discipline is quite a different thing. And, certainly, when I started using it, I found it quite confining, like there are all these rules, and, oh, gosh, to have to obey all of them, that seems a little bit hard, and just feels like I’ve been put in some sort of box. But what I’ve learned is, by way of that example around the question, is that there’s such enormous value in constraints and how they push you to think and push you to be creative.

So, the creative part of me really rebelled against the structure for quite some time. But once I’ve came to see how liberating it was to actually have a framework to use and how much it pushed me to think and come up with clever solutions, I thought it started to be fun actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. Well, so let’s have some fun talking about some of these other storyline patterns. So, we talked about “To be or not to be.” Could you give us maybe the one-minute or less version of how would you define each of these storyline patterns?

Davina Stanley
How would I define them?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, like “Action Jackson,” what’s that?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, “Action Jackson,” that’s an action plan. So, it’s where you have an overall idea and then a set of steps that you’re going to take. So, when you’re going to have your standup in the morning with your team, and you’re saying, “Hey, team, this is what we’re going to do today.” When it’s not controversial, “Action Jackson” is the one to use. So, a list of two to five actions that need to be done that are tied together with one overall message.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And “Close the gap.”

Davina Stanley
Close the gap? That’s a fantastic one when you need to help people think differently about something. So, it’s a deductive structure, so it’s got a similar overall archetype to the “to be or not to be” that we talked about before, and that’s for going to a situation where you need to educate your audience about how something works perhaps in the new world, perhaps some regulations have changed, or the environment has changed, there’s something they don’t know that you need them to understand before they can accept your recommendation. So, maybe, “Success requires us to meet these criteria. However, we only meet some of them, so we’ve got to close the gap, we’ve got to meet the rest.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Davina Stanley
How’s that sound?

Pete Mockaitis
I like it. And the “Houston, we have a problem”? How’s that one go?

Davina Stanley
Oh, this one is Gerard’s favorite, and he particularly loved working with a whole lot of bankers in Houston last year. They really loved that it was named after them, this is, “Houston, we have a problem.” And let me first begin with we’re not to use Houston. When you’re communicating with someone who created the problem, find another way to tell the story, just saying.

So, this one is fantastic when you need to educate your audience about the nature of the problem that exists. And so, “Hey, people, here, this is a real problem,” and convince them that it’s a problem, “However, we’ve found the cause,” and then you can talk through what caused the problem, “Therefore, let’s fix the cause.” So, it’s a really proactive story.
Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And “the pitch.”

Davina Stanley
The pitch. This one is fantastic for proposal and business cases too, where you’re putting forward a pitch to say, “Hey, here’s a great idea that you should implement. You should hire us if you’re a consultant,” or, “You should implement this new system,” or, “Do this this way.” And then what you’re doing underneath that is coming up with a list of reasons why that’s a really great thing to do.

And so, in the book we talk about four reasons, which I’ll quickly run through because I think they’re useful for people. Firstly, we understand the problem. Secondly, we’ve got a solution. Thirdly, we can deliver a solution, a resolve, talking about if you’re the right people. And then you can manage the risks because it’s always important to cover up on that. So, that’s a brilliant one for a classic consulting pitch but also for recommending something that ought to be done.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about the “traffic light”?

Davina Stanley
Traffic light is brilliant for updates. So, I think that’s a really common one and it’s really tempting for people to say, “Hey, we’ve been really busy. Here’s a long list of stuff we’ve done.” And leaders that I talked to really dislike that. So, using traffic light gives you a way of pretty simply grouping and sorting the ideas so that you can come up with an overall message. And, for example, if it’s good news, “Overall, we’re on track.” “Great. Why is that?” “Well, we’ve done all these things, we’ve started this, and we’ve got a plan for these.”

When someone goes into putting forward an update, let’s say, and they’re talking to their boss, their bosses will say to me, “Look, I love hearing what’s going on in my teams. I know they want lots of air time because they really want me to know exactly what’s going on in their world, but there are times when I just haven’t got time for that. If they can come in with that single message, everything is really good. They’ll just say ‘Thank you so much. Love your work. See you later.’”

By organizing ideas into a structure like that, you have the freedom so that when your audience doesn’t have time to hear the whole story, you can still get that big idea across. Whereas if you haven’t distilled the messages, you know the classic thing where you’re given half an hour or an hour to present, and you’re part of one of those revolving door days, maybe a steering committee sort of day, or a board day, or something like that, and person one comes in and person two and person three, and all these different people come in and present to a group.

And so, during the day, the time gets lost. And so, you perhaps thought you had 45 minutes, suddenly you’ve got 5 minutes. So, by having everything mapped out in a structure with a hierarchy like that, you can still get away with presenting because you’ve got the ideas. You don’t need to take them through all of the details before you get to the big point. And update for the classic for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, and how about “watch out story”?

Davina Stanley
Watch out story, this one is fantastic when there is trouble ahead. So, you can imagine a ship sailing wrong, but at the same time is your opportunity to give the good news first, which is always nice. If you can genuinely give good news first, you want to do that, so, “We’ve been going well, however, there’s some risks ahead, therefore we should meet those risks. We should change course or whatever we need to do to address those.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so that’s helpful as I’m sort of thinking about each of these. And I’d love to get your view on, could you maybe share an exciting case study or a story of someone who put all these together and saw cool results that they weren’t seeing when they weren’t doing this?

Davina Stanley
Sure. Sure. So, I was working with an infrastructure company toward the end of last year, and I’d worked with them for about a year, so I’d been over and ran a program and then come back a year later. And that’s a really nice thing to do in my world because we don’t always get to see the outcomes. Sometimes people will tell us or they’ll just say, “That was great,” but they won’t necessarily give us the concrete results.

So, in this case, I was working with a group of people for the second time just to give them a refresher. And a woman called Rebecca came in and we said, “How’s it all been going?” And she said, “Well, by changing, preparing the board papers that we need to prepare, and we do them every month for our area,” and they’re about leasing and finding opportunities, retail opportunities in an airport.

And so, she’d been preparing papers, which might say, “We should do a deal with this sort of retailer so that they should have shops in our airport or that sort of thing.” And the team had been spending a lot of time preparing their reports, but making that single change, which was to prepare a story using the one-pager, get the one-pager right, check it, test it first, and then prepare the paper later. By doing that, she said to me, they cut the amount of time taken to prepare those papers by 60%.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Davina Stanley
That’s 6-0. So, that was pretty exciting. Now, during that 12 months, she’d used a number of different stories, but “the pitch” I think was her favorite because she was often putting up a story that would say something that was pretty straightforward, that was something like, “We should get this book retailer into our buildings.” “Well, why is that?” “Well, they understand our business, they’ve got a great fit for the people who travel through our spaces. We can do what they deliver and we can manage the risks involved with bringing them in.” So, that was a really helpful one for her.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that is really cool and I love the savings on the time on doing anything, so that is cool.

Davina Stanley
Which stops you doing the boring stuff, the frustrating stuff. I think that thing that I like because it makes you feel so much better about your job.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think maybe one of my last questions here is when we talk about sort of the supporting reasons and evidence, I think often I see a big difference between how smart I judge someone to be, fair or unfair, I don’t know. If they give me excellent evidence versus not excellent evidence.

So, for example, I was looking at like an insurance policy, and I said, “Wait a second. In this language, it kind of makes it sound like you can weasel out of anything because anything could be an alleged breach of an implied contract. Like, isn’t that anything in the world?” And then they say, “Well,” and their response was, “Oh, no one has ever raised that before.” It’s like, “Well, that’s not convincing evidence that you pay out claims, you’re not going to leave me high and dry.”

Or, they’ll say, “Well, hey, we have a great financial rating.” It’s like, “Well, that’s just about your assets versus your liabilities. It doesn’t have anything to do with customer satisfaction or your actual record.” And so, I was like trying to help them out, “I’m trying to give you money. I want this insurance. Like, can you show me this or this or this?” And I had to find for myself like how they’re rated by the National or North American Insurance something organizations. It’s like, “Okay, so you actually have fewer complaints than others so that’s not bad.”

Anyway, I don’t know, so that’s my rant. It’s like I ask a question, and instead of getting excellent evidence, I get sort of a wimpy evidence. So, what is the difference? How can we give awesome supporting reasons?

Davina Stanley
Yeah, I think the key is to keep asking a question. So, if you have a list of reasons, so let’s take your example about insurance.
How do you do that? So, firstly, look at an idea that you’re putting up, “We provide storm insurance.” “Okay. Well, how do you provide storm insurance?” Ask yourself a question that that naturally poses, and then answer it. And then if you build it out like a tree, it’s easy to see what sits where underneath, “So, we provide storm insurance,” very relevant in Australia at the moment. “Well, how do you do that?” “We offer this kind and that kind and that kind.” “Well, okay, so within the first one that you’ve mentioned, how do you do that?”

So, you keep drilling in one question at a time, one cluster at a time, and just make sure there’s stuff that really belongs there that genuinely answers that sub-question, so you’ve got a hierarchy and you keep going down. Don’t stick with the platitudes. Make sure you do dig and make sure that the idea at the top doesn’t just say, “We provide storm insurance,” but, “We provide this kind of storm insurance to this kind of people.” Make sure those messages are really specific.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I think that’s probably the name of the game is to like stop and spend some time and think about it, because as I was going back and forth with this insurance broker, “Hey, nice job.” He’s fast in responding to those emails and gave me like a sentence or two, but it’s like, “Yeah, but that’s not really what I want.” So, ultimately, I went with a different insurer. Wah-wah, that’s what’s at stake.

Davina Stanley
Well, you know what, I had the very same conversation with my insurance provider yesterday, and I went and got another quote. So, I’m completely on the same page with you there. I think being specific but also your point there about avoiding. And I see this being a real challenge in corporates now with Slack and these messaging services are being used a lot. It’s this constant flick, flick, flick, flick, flick rather than, “Hang on, stop a sec. What are they really asking here? What’s at the heart of that question? Why are they really asking that?”

And if you can put yourself in their shoes just for a moment, say, “Actually, I know they’re asking that but that’s a symptom of what they really need,” and address what they really need while including the symptom just in case you’re wrong, I think that’s part of the game, isn’t it, to stop these endless chains of conversation in Slack and email and so on that go off on tangents.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, anything else I would like to mention. I’d just say that I think people are not natural-born communicators very often. I think when they’ve got complex things to say, actually it is something that requires practice but it can be done by anyone.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Davina Stanley
So, the idea of being a natural-born communicator perhaps speaks a bit more to charisma and to presence than it does to delivering something of real value.

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

Davina Stanley
A favorite quote. Well, I like the one from Picasso, which is all about. The idea that you must know the rules before you can break them. And you think of his artwork and how on the surface it looks so not well-driven, it looks so random in many ways, but he absolutely understood the rules before he was breaking them so that he could make a comment with it rather than just being random.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Davina Stanley
Favorite book. At the moment, I’ve just finished reading one called The Diamond Hunter, and it’s by a woman called Fiona McIntosh, and it was a really beautiful story.

Davina Stanley
But, having said that, a business book, my latest favorite business book is Free to Focus by Michael Hyatt. And that has really changed the way I work and made me a lot more productive but also a lot more focused on the things that I really enjoy. His concept of a freedom compass and living in the desire zone has made my executive assistant far busier, far more interested in her work, she’s got a lot more to do, and it certainly liberated me to do the stuff that I think is fun.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Davina Stanley
A favorite tool? PowerPoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Davina Stanley
Well, I’m going to come back to what I did this morning before our call actually, and that is to get up early and just allow the day to begin rather than being thrown into it.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, you know what, it’s that concept of designing the strategy. Most of the people that I worked with and I see them later, they’ll say that they now spend an awful lot more time thinking about their communication before they deliver it, and that although that feels a bit uncomfortable, it saves them a lot of time. So, do that. Think first. Do that.

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

Davina Stanley
My website is ClarityFirstProgram.com.

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

Davina Stanley
Oh, I do. I’d encourage them to go through their emails and just pick five random ones that they’ve sent in the last week, and read them with fresh eyes, and ask themselves how quickly their audience can glean the key message. If they write a lot of papers, perhaps pick a paper instead and skim it. And can they get their message in less than a minute, ideally, less than 30 seconds? See whether that can be done because in an ideal world, they’ll be able to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Davina, this has been tons of fun. I wish you lots of luck in your communication adventures.

Davina Stanley
Thank you so much. Lovely to talk with you.