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Speaking & Presentations Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

624: How to Be More Engaging with Storytelling and Humor with David Nihill

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David Nihill says: "Our human brain is crying out for the story behind the numbers."

Comedian David Nihill shares his key techniques from his stand-up act that can help you become a better speaker.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The secret to creating stories that stick 
  2. How to use callbacks to delight listeners
  3. How to always remember what you want to say 

About David

David Nihill is a bestselling author of Do You Talk Funny, listed by Book Authority as the best book of all time on public speaking and storytelling. “One of the best speaking coaches out there” according to Forbes.com his work has been featured in Inc, Lifehacker, The Huffington PostForbesThe Irish Times, TED, and NPR. His videos have been viewed more than 40M times. David is a winner of the prestigious San Francisco Comedy Competition winner, runner up in the Moth’s largest US Grandslam storytelling competition and the first ever Irishman to have a special on Dry Bar Comedy.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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David Nihill Interview Transcript

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

David Nihill
Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me all the way from exotic Ireland.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, it’s great to have you here and it’s a late night for you a bit, but you say there’s not much to do right now anyway.

David Nihill
Yeah. It was a very early night at 8:45 P.M. back in the days in Ireland before this COVID carry-on but now, with no pubs or bars or alcohol on tap, really, it is a much longer evening with a much earlier bedtime. The time just doesn’t go by as faster or as fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. Well, you’ve got a lot of fun stores. In fact, you’re award-winning at storytelling. We’re going to learn some of your wisdom there and when it comes to being engaging and funny. But, first, could you open us up with the short version of your story of being an impostor?

David Nihill
I did impersonate a business fellow called Irish Dave who just happened to be an established comedian in Ireland, albeit with possibly the worst stage name in history, but nobody seemed to question that when in America so I did pretend to be a comedian called Irish Dave for a full year to try and get over a fear of public speaking in the worst way possible, which was to do standup comedy every single night multiple times a night. And I had a fake website, and I had fake Twitter followers, had Facebook fans at one stage. I was really big in India there for a while, which was slightly interesting despite, sheer of the fact, that you could go on Fiverr.com and buy fans from India at a very discounted price, which is ethically questionable, but definitely it was done. And that’s how we get booked in…

Pete Mockaitis
It’s forbidden in some contracts I’ve signed.

David Nihill
It is forbidden, yeah. Well, I faced no such legal technicalities, thankfully, a few years ago, and it just allowed me to get booked in a bunch of places. I really shouldn’t have been with very little experience and it snowballed and got a little bit out of control.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s so funny, well, in the US, it’s like, “Okay, your name is Dave and you’re Irish so you might be Irish Dave, so.”

David Nihill
By default, yeah. But there’s no way you’re going to turn up in Ireland, where like, “Oh, my God, it’s American Pete.” It will just seem too obvious. But you guys love that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s fun. That’s fun. And I love, I saw some of your YouTube videos. I love how you make fun of Americans, playfully. The majority of our listeners are in the US but you have people from all over the world, so feel free to let her rip. I love it when folks with accents do an American accent. Can you lay one on us?

David Nihill
Oh, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I’ve been doing it recently because in Ireland we have a requirement that you can’t drive more than five kilometers from your house, but technically I’m on vacation from San Francisco right now,” whenever I get pulled over, and it goes horribly wrong because they’d be like, “How many weeks are you here for?” And you’re like, “Three.” And Irish people just cannot pronounce the number three and the police obviously know that, and they’re like, “An American would never nail the word three like that,” and I think that’s what gives me away every time. But, yeah, I definitely have a horrendous range of American people’s accents.

You know, I figured out the hard way that more people speak Spanish probably than English in America, so I was like, “Let me just get my Latino voice down in Spanish.” Actually, the best voice is an American trying to speak Spanish, where it’s like, “Yo quiero un harmbergeza,” and you’re like, “That is not Spanish. You just completely used an American pronunciation there to order a burger.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it might you get you a lot of burgers because I think of a guy, he’s name is Nick, in college, he was from the UK, and he’s like, “Hey, so what do we sound like to you?” He said, “I don’t know. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, guys, want to grab a burger and fries?” It’s like, “Okay. Thanks.”

David Nihill
And, you know, I must say, I poke fun at America but always in a lovely way. I like it a lot and it’s kind of been my home from my home for like 14-15 years, so it creates some great opportunities. You can’t beat the positive in America.

Like, in Ireland, if I announce to my friends that I was going to try and do standup comedy to get over a fear of public speaking, they would quickly label me an idiot and tell me I was wasting my time, where in America, they’d be like, “You should do that, man. That could be a great learning experience.” It’s a very different approach, and you guys definitely lean on the positive where we lean on the negative.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, let’s talk about it. So, you learn some things the hard way, and you’ve captured some of those learnings in your book, Do You Talk Funny? So, could you just lay it on us, first of all, sort of what do professionals have to learn from comedians when it comes to public speaking?

David Nihill
I think everything because the scary thing is like if you dig into people who teach public speaking or training, you realize that they haven’t clocked up that many hours on stage themselves, so you’re like, “Where are you actually getting this information from that you’ve put together?” They seem to ignore. If you’re a big subscriber to, say, Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 Hours Rule that he popularized that 10,000 hours it takes doing something to make a master, you’re really not going to find any other group other than comedians when you go down that research path that is doing the 10,000 hours and doing it in the most high-pressure environment possible.

Like, there is nothing more difficult than someone who’s paid money for you to make them happy when they’re having a horrible day, and just walking in, sinking a couple of shots, crossing their arms, and going, “Hey, idiot, entertain me.” That is horrendous. And imagine you do that night after night. Like, they estimate it takes comedians about seven years on average to be able to make a full-time income from comedy, and that pretty much pans out, in my experience, as accurate. That’s kind of putting two to three to four hours into your craft most days over a period of seven years. That is a very large amount of learning in a very painful way.

And the thing is, “What did they learn the hard way on that journey?” And most of the time it’s just a more succinct entertaining form of storytelling that you’re missing in the average world of any snooze fest corporate presentation, or even more so at the moment. Like, virtual meetings are scaring the life out of people emotionally where someone with an imaginary sombrero sitting in front of a background of a place they’ve never been to.

There was a guy on a call the other day with me, and he was sitting on a virtual toilet in the middle of the call, I was like, “That’s not good. Just make it stop now.” So, never on Earth have you had such an opportunity to stand out in such an easy way by doing something a little bit different and open the engagement in all your talks. Like, all you have to do, if you’re the average listener, is take four or five stories that you absolutely love to tell. They’re the ones that when you go to a college reunion or a work meetup with colleagues you just kind of forgotten about or haven’t seen in years, and they’re like, “Oh, Pete, you’ve got to tell that story. That’s the one. Tell it.” And you’re like, “Oh, come on, I tell the story every Christmas when we meet up for beers.”

But every one of us has those three, four, five core stories that we kind of forget about, that for some reason, when it comes to business public speaking, we abandon them. And we’d be much better off if we just rewrote them, change the word order ever so slightly, so we’d borrow something from the world of standup comedy which would be the structure to tell the story, i.e., start in the action, know what you’re going to say last, know the key point or the key funny bit and go your way to make that the very last word. That’s what makes your timing look really good. And, actually, try writing it out or listen to yourself giving that story and have it transcribed if you hate listening back to yourself, like most people do.

So, we use a tool like Rev.com and just put it on a script, and go. Well, I say a lot of waffle unnecessary words when I’m telling that story. Imagine I was a comedian and I only had a short time period to work with, “Could I tell that big long-winded story in one minute? And if I could, what would be the words that I use?” And just look at it because it just forces you to be concise.

Most people, like in business, where it’s like, “Let me share a story with you,” and most of us are like, “Oh, my God, I’m out of here because this is going to be terrible.” We love storytelling, but once they telegraph the intention to try and tell it in an environment where we’re not expecting it, we’re kind of go, “Oh, I’m out of here.” But it’s just little things like that. Like, a comedian never say, “Now, I’ve got a joke for you.” They just tell you a joke. So, it’s by telegraphing your intentions, you naturally change the expectations for something. And I think the world of business just gets so many of those things wrong in business presentations that comedians would never get wrong.

Do you ever go to a comedy club or like a business event? If you go to it, you’ll hear them do an introduction for a speaker. And most business speakers in presentations don’t realize that when you’re in a meeting, or you’re giving a speech, or you’re speaking at a conference, that your talk starts with your introduction. It does not start when you start speaking. So, a comedian knows that, and a comedy club knows that, so they use that to capture some sort of an anticipation and buildup and excitement and guarantee that they get everyone’s attention to get the speaker a round of applause and off to the best possible start.

So, if you go to…they’re around the Bay Area, there’s a conference called TechCrunch Disrupt, and they’d be like, “Our next speaker is Brian. Brian is a serious A investor in Call Comm. Brian has invested in capital stock. And Brian and me used to go skiing together. We were really early at this particular company. Brian is a really great standup guy. Welcome, Brian.” Everyone knows it’s Brian. We don’t care. We’re not really tuned in anymore. It’s gone on for too long.

But in a comedy club, you’re going to hear them, “Ladies and gentlemen, your next comedian just opened for Jerry Seinfeld. His comedy album has debuted number one on iTunes. He’s currently streaming on Netflix. Please welcome,” and the key word, which is the name is only said once, only said last, and that gets people’s attention because they’re asking, “Oh, who is it?” And then when you say the name, they’re naturally trained to clap. And then the whole talk gets off to a great start because you don’t have to sell yourself as the business speaker. You can give your introduction to someone, give them three key points, in that way your audience is like, “Oh, you can just come out and be yourself.”

In nearly every presentation you go to in the world of business, it doesn’t start like that because they just don’t know anything about the world of standup comedy and they ignore comedians as a source of wisdom. So, that’s what I went very deep into but it’s just the small things that make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I love it. You’ve already dropped specific tactics that are right there in terms of what is at the very end and how you build some anticipation, and that’s really good. I’d love it if maybe we could zoom out a bit and hear sort of, I guess, maybe, fundamentally, what makes something funny or engaging? Like, it’s kind of hard for me to pin down, like, why is one thing funny and another thing not funny?

David Nihill
Yeah. Well, funny is a subjective one. When you’re trying to bake funny content, always start with fun and so you can turn fun into funny and then you don’t have much of a failure. Also, if you attach to it that you’re never trying to tell a joke, you’re trying to tell a funny story, and the key word, the key with the funny just happens to be at the end. So, by moving that to the end, you’re maximizing people’s chances of reaction to it.

Then you’re taking a bit of pressure off yourself to be funny because no one knows you were trying to be funny in any way. The engaging comes from storytelling. Number one, always start with a story but do one very key thing. Allow the listener to see themselves in your shoes. That’s what makes it engaging. So, the audience, whatever story you’re telling is not about you, it’s about the audience. So, if you’re talking about your own mother, they’re picturing their mother. If you’re talking about the car that you had that was a beat-up car, that was your first car, and it was red and the exhaust pipe was hanging off, and it was a 1979 whatever it was, the minute you start talking about it, they start picturing their own car in their own head. So, you’re automatically trying to make the storytelling process visual, and your job as an engaging storyteller is to make that easy for people.

So, any of the key details, if it’s a nice one, it has a color. If it’s a person, it has a name, and that gives the signals that, “This is important. Pay attention.” You have a couple little twists when you’re trying to be engaging. You have to keep people hooked and you do it CSI-style. Remember that TV show? It was a bit scary back in the day. The minute you turned it on, you know, there’s a police investigation. The minute you turned it on, someone was dead, and in 10 seconds somebody was on fire, there was like a cat and a hippo, and you’re like, “What is going on in this thing?”

Pete Mockaitis
Something falls out of a window to their…

David Nihill
Exactly. They’re dead. “Who killed this priest and why is he dead within 10 seconds? Well, I better hang around and find out.” And that’s the natural curiosity with engaging stories that it does not start chronologically. You’re not walking through somebody through your LinkedIn bio or your resume or your job experience. You got to grab them right in the middle in the action. So, you never start off by, say, you’re climbing a mountain, you never want to talk about your mental decision to climb that mountain. You want to start near the summit of the mountain. Is there a chance you’re going to make the top? I don’t know. And then you change some of the key words when you’re telling that story to make them into present tense.

So, you never want to say, “I was on the side of the mountain, looking at the top.” It’s like, “I’m standing looking at the summit of the mountain and I can’t feel my feet anymore.” People are like, “Whoa, what’s happening?” And this changes the dynamics of the story instantly. So, if you listen to Snap Judgment, or NPR, or some of the award-winning storytelling podcasts, you’ll hear every one of those guys change the wording of the stories to the present tense because that brings it to life. And within it they’re going to be using a lot of comedic techniques like they will try and build in triple sets anytime they can, which is just basically coupling elements into groups of three, that number that Irish people cannot pronounce.

But three is the smallest number of elements that your mind needs to create and recognize a pattern. And all comedians and great gifted storytellers are doing is usually just breaking that pattern and that makes content memorable because three is easy to remember. But if I say, one, two, four, it’s only retrospectively that you can figure out that I was multiplying the numbers. So, it appears that I’m ahead of you a little bit. So, I always would give an audience apples, apples, oranges. When Chris Rock was talking about…he had a joke that’s a bit dated now, but it was like, “Women, all they need to survive is air, food, and compliments.” I mean, that’s not hugely amazing stuff and it’s dated now and it’s referenced, obviously, but it does demonstrate clearly that pattern is one, two, four.

And when you’re storytelling, people who incorporate those things, link the start to the finish, put the key words at the end and start in the action, use key details, colors, and names, people just see themselves within the story, and that’s what makes it engaging.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Wow, this so much good stuff, so fast. I’m loving it.

David Nihill
Yeah. Sorry, got excited there.

Pete Mockaitis
No, bring it more.

David Nihill
That’s kind of the tactical side of it. But there isn’t much more to it than that. Like, people have courses on storytelling, and you’re like, “Stop with your four-day seminar on storytelling.” This is an innate human thing that we all know how to do. We just don’t all know how to do it in the most succinct form possible. So, it’s just consciously editing out all those details that don’t need to be in there. And you, yourself, identifying the key point of the story, and go, “I know this one.” I tell this in a pub. Friend of my friends laugh. Like, when I tell this at the dinner table, “Where is the biggest reaction moment and what do people remember or what can they say back to me?” And you just need to take out words to get to those points quicker.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all right. So, now, in your book, you lay out seven principles. We’ve already kind of hit a few of them here in terms of having it start right in the middle of things with a story. Can you walk us through some of the other key principles that we haven’t touched on yet?

David Nihill
Yes. My favorite by a mile is to build in a technique called a callback. And the beauty of a callback is, and this is for job interviews, for meetings, a callback is killer. It is simply a reference to something that was said in the moment that couldn’t have been pre-scripted or planned. It was enjoyable between you and that other person, and it looks extremely spontaneous.

So, in the world of storytelling or comedy, a comedian, Dave Chappelle is known for using a lot of callbacks where he’ll drop something at the start and he’s always going to come back to it later on. And a great story will always have the same thing. In the book, it’s called bookending technique. In a movie, where they drop something at the start, they put in some clues, and they’re always going to come back to it.

And just in the world of general presentation, you’re in a meeting, you’re in a job interview, you’re on a sales call, you can use this stuff daily. I was on a call the other day trying to pitch someone from Salesforce, and I knew through research, we had mutual friends who organize a pretty wacky party in San Francisco where they all dress up around Christmas as elves. All parties in San Francisco are kind of wacky, in fairness, given they’re half naked going around in a bicycle from some Burning Man calls that you didn’t really know. Now, I remember all of a sudden. I definitely have those nights up.

I was chatting to them and they knew about this elf party organized by one of their colleagues. So, at the end of the call, I’m like, “Well, listen, I look forward to speaking to you next week. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll shoot you an email. Worst-case scenario, I’ll see you at an elf party.” So, even in that conversation that would’ve taken place on a call, you know it’s got the rule of three, it’s got the triple set, it’s got the flip at the end of it, and it’s got the callback, the reference to the joke that was already shared between a couple of people.

So, I had to give a TEDx Talk, a very short notice, about a year ago and it ended up in front of like 2,400 people. And I’m sitting in the audience, which is a key cool thing a comedian can do sometimes, and any business speaker should do is watch the people before you. How many times in life have you seen a business speaker go on and talk about and referenced something that somebody else just talked about? And you’re like, “Well, you’re not even listening to the last person. Like, they already said this.”

So, I would always sit in the audience and just watch what’s happening before me. And I remember this lady standing there, and she’s just come on the stage, and she hasn’t got much of an introduction, nobody really knows her background. And there’s a smoke machine and it’s clearly broken because there’s way too much smoke in this theater. There’s 2,400 people and she’s the very first talk of the day kicking it all off. And she says, “I’m going to start this talk when I feel an earthquake,” and then she just stops and stands there in dead silence, and just the tension is multiplying by the second. And we got to about 40 seconds and people are vocally shouting out the words “Earthquake!” They haven’t a clue what’s going on.

And then, finally, she stops and goes, “Right. I felt one.” And up on the live feed pops a magnitude earthquake in Guatemala or somewhere, and she is actually a human cyborg, and she’s had these sensors fitted in her body that allowed her to feel any seismic plate shift anywhere in the world, and it’s one of the craziest things you’ve ever heard, but that wasn’t really said in the introduction. The audience didn’t know this so they just thought she was nuts for 30 to 40 seconds. But I’m sitting there and I’m like, “This is a perfect callback. This is something that I couldn’t have planned for,” so I’m super nervous, and I don’t have butterflies in my stomach. I have pigeons. Like, I’m sweating bullets, all the usual nerves that you’re getting ready when you’re going to do a talk. But rather than focus on that, I’m like just trying to remember what she said.

So, I went up, I’m standing on stage, and the same two thousand and three hundred, four hundred people are staring at me, and I was like, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m a bit nervous to be honest. I’m put off because I don’t know how to start this talk. I had initially planned to just stand here and wait for an earthquake but that’s been done already.” And they just cracked up, and this applause just keeps building and building, and I was like, “And you’re obviously a great audience because when she said earthquake, I left the building. Like, you didn’t even budge from your seats. How much did you pay for these tickets?” And now, they know, I couldn’t have planned for this. This is obviously in the moment.

And, again, it’s a technique that you’ll see in a lot of great stories and a lot of great live performances, and even just great job interviews where whatever the other person says, you got to listen enough to give it back to them. And in the world of comedy and storytelling, it just shows that you’re not separate from the audience; you’re actually one of the audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s powerful and a great example to bring that to life in terms of it’s clear that that was not pre-packaged, it’s in the moment, it calls back to something unique because, I guess, if you called back to something, I don’t know, not that noteworthy.

David Nihill
Well, you don’t want to reference something not funny.

Pete Mockaitis
Like, “I was going to red shirt but the last speaker was wearing a red shirt, huh.” It’s like, “Okay, none of us care about that. Like, we’re not at all moved by what you’re saying here.”

David Nihill
But then if you…Here’s an example of stuff that isn’t wildly exciting. I spoke at a Google conference recently, and it was a developer’s conference, and I sat in there watched the three speakers before me, and someone told the story about Indonesia, and they’re like, “Oh, my grandmother in Indonesia is kind of crazy.” And I was like, “All right. The audience laughed a bit at that. Noteworthy.” And then someone started talking about origami and linking their passion for origami to coding. I’m like, “All right. That’s a bit unusual. Noteworthy.” And then the biggest cheer of the morning, by far, was when someone gave a talk, and they said, “We need more Google credits.”

Now, I have not got a clue what Google credits are but these people were going wild for Google credits. So, like about doing my talk, and a comedian will do this all the time. They’ll get up in the first 30 seconds all pretty locked down unless they’re going to do the callback and go. So, what I did in the TEDx Talk was a bit risky because I haven’t established any relationship with the audience that I’m clearly going off script. So, the payoff is huge but the potential for failure is a little bit high unless you know a key thing. So, a smarter way to do that is prepare the first 30 seconds of your talk like a comedian would do or a great storyteller. Make sure you get off to a good start and then try the goofing around just a little bit so if it doesn’t pay off you can just go seamlessly back into what you’re talking about.

So, I get on stage at this Google event and I started my talk as I normally would, and I just stopped for a second, I’m like, “It’s an interesting day-to-day, I tell you. I’ve learned a lot. I didn’t know anything coding but now I know a lot about Indonesia and I’m scared of grandmothers over there, and origami and coding are linked. Who would’ve known? And, most of all, my biggest takeaway is what’s clear that everyone in this room should get immediately more Google credits.” And they go wild and it’s an applause break for someone they don’t know, who’s a stranger and an outsider, and definitely has impostor syndrome because what do I know about developers or coding. But they’re reacting to a technique.

Again, it’s the callback. It couldn’t be pre-planned but it is. It’s put into a structure that just allows you to move along seamlessly. And it’s nearly, like, a magician pulling back a magic trick, someone showing you, “Oh, actually, I’m using this structure where I just need to pick different elements every time.” But those elements are quite important. The biggest reaction has to be last. It’s the same as the rule of three. So, normal thing, normal thing, biggest thing. And you want to build recency into that as well. So, you want most recent mention, second most recent mention, third most recent mention, because then they know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you do it the other way around, they don’t catch on as quickly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, there’s so much good stuff here. So, again, to have rocking, engaging stories, we want to have the good or funny bit to be last; patterns and threes are great, are as callbacks; it’s absolutely critical that it is relatable, like, “I see myself in your story, in your shoes”; and it’s succinct in that we’re getting just the most relevantly excellent bits and stripping away excess words and sentences and details that don’t need to be there; and some details like colors and names. Tell me, any other critical ingredients for a great storytelling?

David Nihill
Yeah, you’ve hit them all. I just think you have to love the story you’re telling is the probably the most critical one. Like, you actually have to dig it yourself and you actually have to get a bit excited when you’re telling it, and it has to be just from the heart. And the more personal it is, the better, the more unique to you. And you may be like, “Oh, that story is inappropriate.” It’s not if you make it appropriate. You can tell a story that is not as you.

I remember doing it. It’s the transition line that’s the key thing. So, once you plan the story and you’re building it into some form of talk or some part of learning point, once you write the story, go back and then write a transition line that makes it pretty fine and pretty obvious and unquestionable why you’re sharing that particular story.

So, I was speaking at a conference recently in Portugal called Web Summit, it’s the world’s largest tech conference, and they had me hosting a session on innovation which I know nothing about whatsoever, unless I find a new way of washing my underpants. That’s about as innovative I get most of the time. So, normally, I don’t really know how to start it off because they have 100 of the world’s most innovative large-scale companies in there sitting around, and I just start off telling about my mother.

And I was like, “Geez, you know, my mother came over to San Francisco to visit me recently. And she’s a bit older, grew up pretty Catholic and conservative, and we’re just sitting there on the couch. And out of nowhere, she’s like, ‘David, do you have any of those cannabis cookies?’ And I was like, “Cannabis cookies?” As it happens, I actually have a whole fridge full of them, thanks to San Francisco for legal medical reasons, obviously, so I fed her a few of them. And it was life-changing. We were making roast potatoes, which is basically caviar for Irish people at the time, and she was over-staring at the oven like a puppy just waiting for these things to be done. We nearly had to drag her away from it. The odor was kicking her up because it’s her first time in life having the munchies and she was basically snorting potatoes as they were coming out.

To only change her life, she went off walking to the Golden Gate Bridge the next morning, like this lady hadn’t been walking in years, came back with a pair of Lululemon pants on her, I couldn’t believe it. She’s like, “All the girls are wearing them,” and corrupted my auntie when I went home, just like weed smell coming down from the house in Ireland, I was like, “Geez, what is going on here?” And the thing is you think, “Oh, that story is not relevant to anything.” It got more bonkers, long story short. Like, one day she’s like, “David, what do you think of that gay marriage in Ireland,” because Ireland was the first country in the world, by popular vote, to legalize gay marriage, which is quite a turnaround for a place that’s seen as backwards in the eyes of a lot of people to be very forward that quick.

Before I could answer, me Ma says, “David, nothing new to me. I was the first lesbian in Ireland to get married back in 1970.” And I was just sitting there dumbfounded, I was like, “Does Dad know about this? Like, what’s going on here?” And she’s like, “Well, when your dad and I were going to get married, he got a bit drunk the night before, lost his birth certificate, we couldn’t find it. But, luckily, he had a dead sister, Patricia, she died when she was two.” And I was like, “Dad had a dead sister Patricia? You never mentioned this to me before.” She’s like, “Well, it’s not central to the story. Don’t worry about it.” I was like, “This sounds pretty central to me, mom.” And she goes on, she’s like, “Well, the priest didn’t have the best eyesight, your dad’s called Patrick, his dead sister is called Patricia, so we just went ahead and used her birth certificate, so technically I’m married to your dad’s dead sister.” Delighted with herself.

And I’m at this tech conference and I was telling them something similar, I can’t remember how much detail I went into the weed, but I was like, “We’re all in here in this room focused on innovation, but how well do you know your own family members? You assume that your customers, you know them, that you know what they want, that they desire, but I didn’t know my mom was into munching weed cookies and was experimenting with lesbian marriage on the side. Sometimes we assume we know things, and we shouldn’t. There’s nothing that research can’t solve that we could get to know our customers better and drive further innovation.”

And then whatever waffly section you put in there off the top of your head, it will come out better than what I just said off the top of mine. So, off the top of your head, then script it and write it, and say, “How do I get from this story to illustrate a point that I want to make?” So, the core point there was like, “You don’t know your end users as well as you think you do, and I’m going to substitute my parents for them in that story.” So, a big skill in the world of storytelling, I think, that’s overlooked a lot of the time is, “What is the transition line? Or what is the excuse you need to give yourself to make that story make perfect sense for your audience?”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, in the sequencing, the transition happens after the story and not before the story?

David Nihill
Yeah, usually, unless you say you kick off…a lot of TED Talks will start in this way as well or you’ll notice a lot of good effective talks will start with one very generic statement and then they’re into the story. And the statement is generic for a reason because they don’t want to get people to argue with them off the bat, so they’re not like a lawyer. When you’re doing storytelling or you’re doing any form of live performance, you’re trying to win over the audience. So, if you have an argument, you’re not going to make it at the top. You’re going to hide it.

So, say I got up there and I say, “Oakland is a crazy place,” and I’m in San Francisco, pretty close to Oakland, someone will cross their arms, dead stare me, and go, “I don’t agree with you. I live here. I love the place. I don’t agree with that statement.” But if I say, “Oakland can be an interesting place sometimes,” pretty much that statement would agree to everybody, agreeable to much more people, and it allows me to tell my story. And so, I haven’t made my point of view clearly on it so it’s a bit more intriguing, “Oh, what does this guy think about it? What’s he going to say?” Whereas opposed to, “I hate this. Let me tell you why,” which you don’t want to make.

So, it’s nearly the anti-lawyer’s approach to public speaking where a lawyer will make their argument really quickly because that’s their job, they’re on the clock to do it. As a public speaker, you really have to walk people into it, win over the room to get them on your side, and then you’re closing argument kind of sneaks up on them. So, your full license to tell the story.

There’s a TED Talk by Shawn Achor about happiness that’s one of the best you’ll ever see. I think it’s the eighth or the ninth most watched in the world. But if you watch it, it’s 11 to 12.5 minutes long, and the first 4.5 minutes is a story about him playing with toy soldiers.

Pete Mockaitis
With his sister.

David Nihill
Yeah, with his sister and breaking her arm. And it has nothing to do with anything, and you’ll see the same thing in Ken Robinson’s TED Talk. It’s “Do schools kill creativity?” It’s the most viewed and popular TED Talk of all time, and he tells a million stories, well, not a million, a slight over-exaggeration but there’s at least four to five stories in there that have absolutely nothing to do with that topic, but they’re beautiful stories that you can tell he loves telling, and they loosely are connected to the topic.

So, if you’re giving a talk about technology, your parents’ struggle with sending you emojis in an inappropriate basis, or whatever you’re getting eggplants from your mother in the middle of the night, who literally thinks they’re just eggplants and nothing else, well, that’s mildly entertaining to an audience, and you can use that to support a transition line that might be the struggles of a certain demographic to adapt to different features of user design.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, this is really rich stuff. I guess I’m thinking about there’s very different modes of communicating. Like you mentioned a lawyer, I’m thinking about consultants. We always talk about answer first, or the executive summary, I’m like, “All right. David, you need to sell this division for four key reasons. It’s unprofitable, it’s shrinking, and whatever.” And so, then it’s sort of right from the get-go. And so now our, like I speak for the consulting industry, the consultants’ perspective on the matter is that that is an efficient use of time for busy executives who don’t want to guess as to what your slide means. They want you to lay out the argument.

And so, I guess that’s how I’m thinking about the tradeoff there is it’s less fun than what you’re talking about, it’s less engaging unless you have a really strong vested in that position on either side, but it may be faster. How do you think about this, like, the different approaches?

David Nihill
I think that’s fundamentally the reason why many of us live and are subjected to so many boring meetings because we feel…we take the emotion out of people and we assume that they want the highest value in the shortest amount of time illustrated with numbers and graphs. Whereas, realistically, our human brain is crying out for the story behind the numbers. So, you can show me a chart and a line, they’re like, “Oh, look at the way the line goes up and then it goes down again, and then it goes up. Bet you didn’t see that coming.” “Woohoo, amazing. Please share your slide deck with me.”

By way of interest, next time you give a presentation, give a link in the end and say, “Here’s a link.” Make it a bit.ly link so it’s trackable and give it to people because they always ask for the slides. They love asking for slides, “Oh, I’d love to get the slides from that presentation,” and just see how many people actually click on that because. Like it is miniscule. I do it at big conferences where there’s like 2,000 people, people don’t care. They like the story, they like relating to you as a human. They’re more likely to buy from you if they learn something about you.

And if you have that kind of…it’s very hard to like someone that just leads with the numbers and just says, “Here’s the four things you need to do to turn this business around today.” Where if you could illustrate one of those things for me, I’m much less likely to give you resistance in following your advice in it if the story is so clear as to why I should do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. Well, tell us, we got a lot of good stuff, you’ve got something I can’t resist. You’ve got a secret for finding the funny: preparation, anticipation, punchline. We touched on some of this. Can you expand on this approach?

David Nihill
Yeah. I don’t know if that…it’s definitely not a secret because you’ll see it all over the time. But, yeah, it’s just, “What is that little bit of buildup that you need there to flip it?” I think it’s most easily repeatable in the world of visual presentations. So, if you have like a whole bunch of data and words on a slide or some form of presentation in your job, just take it off and put the key word or metric, or break it down to five words. And if you want to have a bit of fun, and you want to get funny in there, just don’t take a picture that’s funny and throw it up there and point at it like a lunatic, and be like, “Look at that dog. I found it on the internet. It’s nice, isn’t it?” And they’re like, “Yeah, okay. You’re a weirdo.” But if you build some anticipation to the image and use the misdirect, like the one, two, four, basically, you’re setting up the sequence where you’re not going to give them what they expect.

Pete Mockaitis
“I’d like to share with you our new mascot, the marketing team has been hard at work for months finding just the perfect brand…” and then the ridiculous dog goes, like, “Ha, ha, ha.”

David Nihill
Exactly. Or a three-legged hippo or anything, and then they always react. I had a friend, she was speaking at a conference in Australia, and she was the head of growth for Airbnb at one stage when they were in pure hybrid inflation mode. And she’s like, “Here’s a picture of me. And what I love is that I look so calm and calculated at this, my desk is organized. But the inside, I actually feel like this,” and that’s the moment that builds the anticipation because they’re like, “Well, what’s this look like?” and then the image becomes the flip. So, the timing on that is quite important to build up the expectation, then reveal the image, and then comment on the image.

So, she showed them a picture of a little girl getting sprayed in the face by an out-of-control fire hydrant for what she was then, and they cracked up laughing. But it’s not the viral hilarity by any means, but it just gives that anticipation, and it’s a very clear and simple misdirect. And I would say just bear that in mind when you’re presenting any form of information from wherever it may be to a job interview or anything. Just try and not do what they’re expecting you to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, maybe a final question before we hear about your favorite things. If folks, they think, “Okay, this is good stuff or good content and it’s funny but, hey, I think I may be just too nervous to deliver at this kind of high level. It seems intimidating to go. It’s like advanced ninja skills in presentation is what you’re asking. And I’m nervous already right now with my not-so-funny presentations,” how do you recommend folks overcome stage fright?

David Nihill
Yeah. Well, I think, number one, we get sold on the belief that we can overcome it, which I think is mostly false. I never overcame it but I got really good at managing it. And everybody else I’ve talked to over the years got really good at managing it. And I would add to that by saying when you were talking about advanced ninja skills, it’s a funny thing. And in the world of public speaking, they’ll try and sell you a beginner course, advanced, intermediate, whatever it might be. We’re not learning a language here. There’s no intermediate or advanced level. We’re just speaking. And the people who get paid 30 grand to talk, they make the same mistakes as someone who’s doing it for the first time. They just don’t know it because they have a bit of a false confidence that goes with the title they have.

But just recognize that the little things that make a big difference are not advanced, so outsourcing your introduction is super easy so that you don’t have to start off listing your own achievements and building your credibility, do that every time. Use an app like Perfect Timer, which is totally free, to track the timing of your presentation and go short before long. Never talk for an hour if you don’t have to. Like, the brain taps out.

The maximum human attention span, according to John Medina, who’s one of the world’s leading brain psychologists, is 9:59. Once you’re over that, you’re in a little bit of an uphill battle to keep people’s attention. So, realize that no one’s ever going to come up to you after a presentation, going, “That was amazing. I just have one problem. I wish it was longer.” Not even your family, your loved ones, that granny you haven’t seen in years, none of them want you to go for longer. So, go short before long. Let’s say never finish on a Q&A. Like, these are just simple things.

Like, when it gets to the end of your talk, say, “I’m going to take a few questions before I make my conclusion.” Ninety-nine percent of the world’s speakers don’t do that and they stand there like an absolute lemon while nobody asks them questions. They feel mildly embarrassed and that they don’t get an applause because nobody knows it’s over because you didn’t get asked that question anyway. And every speaker in history has been in that scenario, and they stand there, and the host is like, “Ooh, has someone got a question? You down the back?” And that person is like, “Hell, no. I don’t have one thing,” nearly going under the table. And you, as the speaker, go to walk off, “Okay, we’re finished here.” And then someone shouts a question, “Oh, actually, I have one,” so now you’re back on again. Now people are like, “Oh, God, how long am I going to be here?” so they start leaving.

So, it’s like this takes on like your favorite band. Like, U2 would never go around the world with their new album. Of course, I’m going to take an Irish example here and be stereotypical. But they’re never going to go Madison Square Garden and debut their new album, play 10 songs, get to the ninth song, and they only have one left, they planned it, it’s the best song, it’s the one that’s going to bring it home, but they’re like, “You know what, we were going to play that but how about, does anyone here in the audience sing? Anyone want to bring this home? Anyone want to bust out a ukulele?” That will be insanity, but every speaker does that, and they’re like, “Hey, audience, say something crazy to me.”

So, just using that sentence, “I’m going to take a few questions before I make my conclusion,” tells people that there’s more to come, their questions have to be short and sweet, and, of course, you’re going to save a slide with learning points on it to remind them what you’re actually talking about. And how many are there going to be? Three. And those things aren’t focusing on funny, they’re not focusing on humor, but they make you look way slicker, all of a sudden, as a speaker, and maybe you weren’t the most confident.

It’s like me with shaky hands. Like, my nickname in college was Shaking Stevens. When I gave a presentation, I shook so much that I turned into an Irish salsa dancer, like my whole body was going in places that I didn’t wanted it to be going. People would come from other classes just to see me falling apart in front of people. And it’s not a matter of, “How do I stop shaking?” I can’t because that’s adrenaline. I’m never going to convince myself to go.

So, to this day, that happens where you just identify, “Well, what are all the things that are going to go wrong? Someone is going to give me a glass of water and there’s no way I can drink a glass of water with a shaky hand. I’m going to have a bottle of water and my mouth is going to be dry. Well, geez, I’ll never be able to open a bottle of water. And if it’s a full bottle of water, I’m going to squirt it all over me. My hands are shaking so much.”

So, it’s a matter of little things like that, like no glass, get rid of that one, make sure the bottle of water is three quarters empty and already opened, and safe distance from you to knock it over. If you’re more comfortable, start with your hands in pockets. Don’t show people shaky hands. Use a technique called The Memory Palace that was popularized by Joshua Foer in his book, Moonwalking with Einstein, and he has a killer talk on that as well on TED, and it’s just a memorization technique that allows you to visualize key points so you’re never going to hold notes in your hands. So, now, if you shake, you don’t have to hold notes. You’ll look way more professional. And then if something happens, The Memory Palace, you will never ever go blank. And nearly everyone’s biggest fear when it comes to public speaking is going blank on stage but nearly nobody teaches it which is insane.

So, like, if I want to teach you the word in Spanish for “to fit,” the word is caber. It’s super hard to remember that tomorrow. But if I asked you to picture a New York City taxi cab, a yellow bubble one, and it’s pulling up downtown Manhattan in front of Trump Plaza, and a bear runs out of this taxi, or bumps out of Trump Plaza and tries to get into a taxi, and, of course, the hairy bear doesn’t fit, he’s huge, and his hairy legs are kicking out the windows as he tries to squeeze his body in the window, and his hairy bear bottom is in the air. And you’re visualizing that, and you’re visualizing that the cab, the bear does not fit in the cab, caber is the word for “to fit.”

So, you have this whole little trick of remembering information and making it visual. And, for the rest of your life, you’ll never forget the word for “to fit” in Spanish, and it’s because you’ve used something called The Memory Palace, which is visualizing, creating a crazy that only makes sense for you for everything you need to remember, and then The Memory Palace just means putting that, picturing it taking place somewhere that’s familiar to you.

So, instead of having a bullet point list for your talk, you picture your talk taking place in your house, and all you’re doing is walking around the lap of your house encountering crazy images that you’ve created, like a bear trying to get into a taxi cab. So, when you put that together, you become very spontaneous in public speaking because you’re never going to forget what you’re talking about. So, if someone falls off a chair, or farts, or burps, or screams, or interrupts you, you’ll react to it, and you don’t go into panic. If the fire alarm goes off, you don’t try and keep going, you just say, “God, the fire alarm has gone off.” Everything becomes an opportunity for some form of entertainment because at any moment you can get back on track.

So, I wouldn’t think of it as trying to be funny or off the bat. I wouldn’t put it as advanced level stuff. It’s just the techniques that can make you look advanced, that if you know 10 or 15 things that most people don’t, no matter how many years they’ve been doing speaking, you can normally look better than them really quickly. I have all people all the time writing me messages, and they’re like, “Dude, I give the exact same presentation as I did a year ago. I put in a couple of GIFs, some funny images, told one story and I got voted the best speaker. No idea. Night and day the last time.” And that’s the kind of stuff that happens all the time. So, it’s not as complex as people who are trying to sell you stuff make it out to be.

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

David Nihill
You know, I think I heard him on your podcast, Jeffrey Gitomer, and he has a lovely quote called “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” I just thought that sums up the world of public speaking, timing, and delivery in one sentence. Because the most attention you’ll ever have from anyone ever is the moment after you make them laugh because their just brain says, “Give me more of that.” So, the dopamine spike lends itself to grabbing attention from an audience.

So, if you have to say something serious, the best time to say something serious and memorable and impactful, or ask for money, for example, or whatever you’re doing in your pitches, to make people laugh a little bit before that. But, yeah, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” That one I love and, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all,” but that’s not really…Helen Keller gets attributed to it sometimes but I’m not sure who actually said it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite study?

David Nihill
Favorite study. You know, Stanford did one once where they had people locked in a room staring at babies all day, and that was a good few years ago. I don’t think you could get away with that today, where all these researchers are like, “We’re just going to borrow your babies.” But the study was to show that babies, on average, laugh about 300 times per day, and grownups laugh about 15. So, for anyone who tells you, you don’t need a bit of laughter in your life, you definitely do, and you need more of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

David Nihill
Oh, a toss-up. I like The Man Who Tried to Save the World, the Fred Cuny mystery, and The Fish That Ate the Whale. And I like both of those because they’re just stories of these individuals that did things that you didn’t think was possible just because they thought they could do it. Like, the Fred Cuny mystery is a guy who decided to declare himself the world’s expert on humanitarian aid relief. So, if a tsunami hits tomorrow, he’d be the first person who got the call from all the world’s leading agencies. And he had no skills or qualifications to get himself that job, and he got to the point where George Soros was writing him cheques, and saying, “Go fix Chechnya. That’s your job.”

I don’t even think there’s an audiobook version of it. I learned it from a girl who’s a journalist, and she’s like, “This is the best book you’ll ever read that no one’s ever told you about.” So, yeah, it’s The Man Who Tried to Save the World, the Fred Cuny mystery. And The Fish That Ate the Whale is about the guy, Sam, the Banana Man, Zemurray, who basically all the CIA manuals for taking over a company, err, sorry, a country and putting out puppet president in place were based on what this guy did to take control of Honduras just so he could sell more bananas. They’re brilliant stories. You’re like, “Okay.” They’re kind of things like, “I can’t believe I never heard of these stories before.”

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

David Nihill
I like HubSpot a lot. I don’t know if it makes me awesome at my job but it definitely improves me a bit, even the free version of HubSpot. I think if you’re selling anything online, I think, just to be able to track emails and know that somebody actually opened your email, forwarded the links in your email, or just activated, or looked at it, or was interested in it, that makes a big difference. But I use Rev.com a lot for transcribing stuff. Probably the easiest way you can improve your public speaking is to watch yourself or listen to yourself back, but nobody ever wants to do that because it’s painful, and they will avoid it at all costs. But if you put it through something like Trint or Rev.com, it does the transcriptions there that turns your work into a script, and it’s really easy to see where you need to improve when you do that.

So, I use that a lot. That and Perfect Timer, which is basically just a countdown timer on your phone that you can’t miss. Because if you do public speaking in meetings and conferences, usually you’re so distracted you’ll lose track of time, or the event organizer tells you, “Oh, we’ll keep track of the time. We’ll have a clock on the stage,” and then everything breaks. So, it’s saved my life a lot. And that app is free. I think it’s called Perfect Timer.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

David Nihill
Favorite habit, kite surfing by miles. I nearly get killed on a weekly basis and I still love it so it must be good for something.

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

David Nihill
You know, funny enough, Jeffrey Gitomer’s line is the one that I built into my talks over the years that I love the most, and it’s probably the most quoted. So, I wish it was something that I said but, honestly, I think that sums up the whole argument for using humor the most, that, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.”

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

David Nihill
Towards DavidNihill.com. I think I have everything there. And in the world of public speaking, I put under a course name called Hacking Public Speaking. So, that was my bit of marketing experimentation. I was like, “I wonder if I offered 50% of their money back for a completion within 30 days. Would they actually do it?” You know, you take online courses. I signed up to Master Class and I’m not cooking like Jamie Oliver yet. I’m just blowing up microwaves for survival. I’ve blown up hotdogs in the microwave. So, everything I know I learned the hard way is there, or you can read a lot of it for free. And I think I have a talk on Google, an altar talk with a lot of the content are on public speaking if you just want to improve for free.

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

David Nihill
Yeah, I would say to put more of your own personality out there in the world of business and you will get more clients from it. And don’t give them that little bit of amazing new miracle thing that you have in your presentation, and be like, “Oh, that number is going to resonate with them.” The personal story and the something that allows them to see themselves in your shoes and come up to you after a presentation, or just relate to you on a one-on-one level, that’s going to be a story, something for your own life that you normally wouldn’t share. And if you think you have nothing funny, the magical recipe for that one is, if it’s embarrassing for you, it’s funny for me.

Pete Mockaitis
David, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in all of your fun adventures.

David Nihill
Thank you very much.

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

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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.

536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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Julian Treasure says: "It's a great, great gift to give somebody... 100% of your attention."

Julian Treasure shares tactics and techniques that greatly improve how you communicate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. A crucial question for more powerful listening and speaking
  2. The two biggest roadblocks to effective communication
  3. How to make your voice more engaging

About Julian:

Julian is a sound and communication expert. He travels the world training people to listen better and create healthier sound. He is author of the books How to be Heard and Sound Business.

Julian’s five TED talks have been watched more than 80 million times. His latest, “How to speak so that people want to listen,” is in the top 10 TED talks of all time. Julian is regularly featured in the world’s media, including TIME MagazineThe TimesThe Economist and the BBC.

Julian is also founder of The Sound Agency. The audio-branding company asks and answers the question “How does your brand sound?”

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

Julian Treasure
Great to be back, Pete. Thanks for having me again.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m delighted to be having you again. And you say you’ve learned a lot in just the gap of time between when we last spoke about a year or two here. So, can you maybe tell us for starters, what’s one of the most fascinating discoveries you’ve made in the realm of sound and communications and the new insights?

Julian Treasure
Well, the biggest thing going on at the moment is through my company, The Sound Agency. We’ve launched a new product which is aimed at improving wellbeing and productivity in open-plan offices. That is a variety of space which blights the lives of millions of people all over the world. Yeah, noise is the biggest problem in open-plan. It’s kind of okay for collaboration, although research is now emerging showing that even for that there are challenges. We tend to send more emails in open-plan offices, even people who are really close to us because people don’t like being overheard. There’s no privacy, I guess you would say.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

Julian Treasure
So, that idea of sort of freeform easy collaboration across the desk may be a myth. Even so, when you come to other kinds of working, concentration particularly, where you’re trying to do solo working, it’s a nightmare, isn’t it? I mean, everybody knows that. It’s so hard to think when there’s somebody behind you talking about their great night-out or whatever it may be. We’re programmed to decode language. We have no earlids. So, unless you’re going to put headphones on, and we can talk about that as well as a strategy, then you’re really stuffed.

We have bandwidth for about 1.6 human conversations, so somebody talking behind you is taking up one of your 1.6 which reduces your ability to listen to the voice in your head that you need to be listening to when you’re trying to work, or write, or do numbers, or whatever it may be. And that is absolutely disruptive for output. And the research shows we can be as little as one-third as productive in that kind of environment as we would be in a quiet space.

So, it is a really big problem. And we’ve developed a product called Moodsonic. It is biophilic, that may be a new word for some people. That means it’s based on nature sound, sounds that we’ve evolved to over 200,000 years, you know, wind, water, birds, those lovely sounds which, again, research is starting to show are actually really good for us. Bird song has been now used therapeutically to help people recover from stroke and various other ailments. Wind and water, similarly, the research is starting to show that natural sound, like this is absolutely good for us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s really cool. So, folks just listen to it with headphones and then they are sort of inoculated from a lot of the downsides of the open-office plans?

Julian Treasure
Well, no, actually this is broadcast through loudspeakers in the space.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, so it replaces a lot of offices where there’s a problem with privacy. They will put in some good masking sound which is a pretty nasty noise. It’s a mechanical noise. Filtered white, pink, or brown noise which is designed to masks speech. But I’ve always had a suspicion that’s not very good for people. It’s artificial, it doesn’t sound very nice. It’s kind of like “krrrr” all day going through loudspeakers, so you cease to notice it after a while but that doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect. And the research is starting to show again that this actually increases cortisol levels, it creates stress hormones in people which makes you tired, a bit antsy, and it’s not good for you in the long run.

So, we’re replacing that kind of artificial noise with biophilic generative sound, that is to say it’s created by a computer based on algorithms, probabilities. It flows organically just like the sound would if you’re in a forest.

So, we developed this product based on scientific research and it’s designed to be beautiful and effective and good for people. So, it’s going to be a very exciting 2020, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is cool sound is your thing, and here’s a big sound problem and you’re going after it, so that makes a lot of sense and that’s really cool. And I want to listen to some of these.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

And then I’ve launched my course. I spent most of last year putting everything I know about speaking and listening skills all the way from the very basics up to advanced public speaking skills into an online course. And the main reason for that is I had a pulmonary embolism two years ago.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it came from a DVT. I mean, I was flying a lot. And anybody out there who does a lot of flying, please do take this seriously. I thought I was fit and healthy, and I was blasé about flying, and it’s all fine, but what happened to me was a DVT. Suddenly my ankle swelled up, became really painful, then my knee. And then a week or two later, a crippling pain in my back. And that’s what it was, it was a PE,
And so, I’ve really been looking to reduce the amount of travel I do as well as being on blood thinners now for the rest of my life. I’m fit and healthy again but I really would rather not be flying around the world the way I was. So, it kind of changed my focus. The work is so important. I mean, never have we needed listening more than we do now in the world. And so many people are frustrated that they can’t get their message across or they want to become good in public speakers. I really want to get the work out there. The TED Talks are being seen by, I think, a hundred million people now, which is amazing, but they’re very short. And this course is seven and a half hours long, so it’s a different order, it might confuse altogether.

And so, I’ve put that together and we launched that. And I’m hoping that that’s going to help get the work out to people all over the world, indeed, who I never would meet or be able to talk to in person and who can benefit from this for the rest of their lives. So, those are the big things, really, that have happened since we last spoke. Not much.

Pete Mockaitis
No, certainly. Well, yeah, that’s plenty and I’m so glad that you’re healthy and well and with us and continue to enrich the world with this good stuff. Well, why don’t we start with listening, shall we? You say that we’re losing our listening. What’s that about?

Julian Treasure
Well, technology is a big part of that. Attention spans are getting shorter. There is that ridiculous number going around saying that human beings now have got less attention span than a goldfish, and that’s nonsense. It was a complete misread of some original research which then got propagated and became an open myth.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, why don’t we set that straight. So, what is the attention span? How do we measure it? What’s the number? And is it declining?

Julian Treasure
It’s a piece of string, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Julian Treasure
I mean, how do you measure that? That’s part of why the original study was nonsense. I mean, it’s impossible to create an average attention span for human beings. What do you mean? I mean, what are you paying attention to? Is it one word, one thing, one concept? If I have another thought, does that mean my attention span is gone? It’s very hard to define. But I think simply heuristically, most people would agree that our attention is becoming spread thin now.

Facebook’s whole business model is about grabbing attention. Your attention is their product. I mean, that’s what they’re selling to advertisers. And that’s just one medium, one channel, that’s trying to get your attention all the time. And they’re using, I mean, I don’t know if they’re creating this or it’s us creating this, but FOMO, you know, the fear of losing out is a huge thing. So, we all have to check in every so often, “Oh, somebody might have tagged me. Somebody might have tweeted about me. Somebody might have responded to something I’ve done.” This is incessant checking in need, and that takes us away from being present.

When you are going to listen to somebody, Scott Peck said, “You cannot truly listen to another human being and do anything else at the same time.” And yet most of the time, we’re doing four things at once. And, particularly, I know younger people are getting really almost addicted to multi-stream input. If you’re just watching a film, that’s boring. You need to be commenting about it on a blog or some sort of a website, as well as doing something else, talking to a friend and so on and so forth.

So, this multi-stream frost-cut world that we’re in where we get very addicted to intensity, it means that a good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation is about as outmoded as sitting down and listening to a whole album. Very few people do that now. It’s track copying. It’s one track. A whole track. I don’t listen to whole tracks, you know.

So, this fast-switching attention seeking stimulation, I think, is a big part of why we don’t listen to much. And the other element in it, I guess, is simply that noise is around us a lot in urban situations and we get deadened, we get numbed, our listening simply becomes less sensitive. We get used to discounting sound. Most of it is nasty, so why would you want to listen to it? And that becomes a habit because listening is a skill. It’s a skill that we can develop, and it’s a very important skill for living effectively, and for being happy, and also for being well. I mean, it’s part of being well, is listening to the sound around you and taking responsibility for what you consume through your ears.

There’s an awful lot of people who are doing themselves an awful lot of damage by consuming unpleasant noise or loud sound, damaging their hearing, creating stress reactions. I can give you one example of that, and not all of this is intentional, by the way. The average noise level in German classrooms these days is around 65 decibels according to studies in Germany, and that’s not surprising because of group work. This is where all the kids are chattering at once, working in small groups. Teachers have to shout to get to over 65 decibels. So, not only did one British teacher have a successful suit for losing her voice entirely in that kind of situation, but also the research shows that 65 decibels is the level at which your risk of a heart attack is significantly elevated if you’re chronically exposed.

Now, teachers are chronically exposed. They work every day in that situation so it’s very likely that teachers are shortening their lives by working in that situation day after day, and yet we don’t pay attention to it. It’s not ear-damaging, 65 decibels, but it’s definitely bad for your health. And that’s happening all over the place. Traffic noise is blighting the lives of millions of people across the world. You can’t sleep at night. And sleep deprivation is a terrible thing long term. But, unfortunately, there are no votes in noise. You don’t see a politician standing up and saying, “Vote for me. I’ll make it quieter.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so, that is a nice thorough response there in terms of what’s going on behind losing our listening. And when you’re talking about multi-stream input, boy, I can’t resist but sharing my favorite tweet of all time, and I think you’ll get the joke. It goes like this, “Holding my child and just so present in this moment.” Get it? She’s tweeting about holding her child and being present in the moment.

Julian Treasure
It’s like people who’s on holiday, and you say, “How’s your holiday?” And they say, “I’ll let you know when I see the photographs.” It’s that whole thing, isn’t it? Living life vicariously, having to have the commentary going the whole time. Yes, I do understand. I really wasn’t laughing because it’s sad. You know, that’s a sad thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, indeed. It is if you zoom in, like, hmm, if that is indeed kind of a habitual life experience for that tweeter, then, yes, that would…

Julian Treasure
Yes, it might’ve been ironic, of course. You never know.

Pete Mockaitis
It could be. Okay. so that’s the problem, so losing our listening because of a number of reasons and sources. And so, you’ve got a number of exercises you recommend to help improve conscious listening. Can you share a couple of those that are the most helpful for folks?

Julian Treasure
Definitely will. Just before I do, can I speak for a moment about the circular relationship between speaking and listening because that’s really important?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Julian Treasure
I think it’s quite interesting. My TED Talk on speaking has been seen by about six times as many people as my TED Talk on listening, and that says something about our priorities. We’re much keener to be heard than to listen, in general. And so, it’s really important that people understand if you want to be heard, it is crucial to be a good listener. It’s much, much easier to speak to somebody you understand and to speak to somebody that you’ve got some sort of rapport with than to be missing the mark completely because you’re misinterpreting the person, you don’t care, you don’t know, who are they. You’re likely to miss the target entirely.

There’s this circular relationship. The way I speak affects the way you listen. The way you listen affects the way I speak. And the way I speak affects the way you speak. And the way I listen affects the way you listen. So, it’s dynamic. It’s going all the time between two people talking, or one person talking to a group, or one person on the stage talking to hundreds. It doesn’t matter. There’s this circle going all the time.

And that’s why, really, it’s the central thesis of the book and the course, that in order to be a great powerful speaker, if you want to be effective, if you want to build a team, if you want to inspire, motivate, lead, any of those things, or even just have a happy family life, and be heard in life, you need to be listening as well. You can’t do it if you’re not listening. And listening is a skill. So, that was a preamble.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. For the six times as many people who are interested in being heard, here’s your why if you listen.

Julian Treasure
Exactly, yeah. “I don’t care about listening, I want to speak for people to listen to me.” Well, they will if you listen to them. I mean, there’s a question that I suggested, it’s a really cool question in the book and in the course. The question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is such an important question because listening changes from person to person. It changes over time as well for one person. Our listening change. It changes after lunch, you’re a bit sleepy. Or changes if you’ve just had brilliant news, or if you’ve just had terrible news. Emotions affect.

All of the filters we developed through life – values, attitudes, beliefs, intentions, expectations, assumptions about what people think of us, the language we speak, the culture we’re born into, all these things affect our listening. That means every human being’s listening is unique so it is really important not to assume “Everybody listens like I do,” which is a very common mistake, and to ask the question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” That is a great exercise if you want to become a powerful speaker, and if you want to develop relationships with people, and work on your listening. It makes listening fascinating because you’re listening to the listening.

You’re observing the person that you’re speaking to with your eyes, with every sense that you’ve got, and you simply have to ask the question, “What’s the listening…?” and I promise everybody listening to this, by getting into the habit of asking that question, you will naturally generate the sensitivity. It doesn’t require a course or a degree or anything like that. It’s natural.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say “What’s the listening…?” you’ve got a number of categories.

Julian Treasure
Well, yes, there are many ways to listen and simple things. If you’re talking to somebody who’s very slow, then you can slow down. Now, to some degree, people with empathy will do that naturally, but there’s an awful lot of people who have never generated much empathy and who will rattle away at their own natural pace regardless of the person they’re speaking to, whether they’re faster, slower, whether they have a particular listening style. They’re particularly warm and emotive. They want it all. They’re somebody who just wants to top, “Give me the summary. I’m not interested in all that stuff.” Or somebody who wants the facts and figures, there are variations. That one is called think, feel, know, three classes of people.

There are lots of ways of cutting people out like that, dividing people into groups. The important thing is to look at the person in front of you and to understand them, and listen to the listening. Ask yourself the question because naturally you’ll start to adapt to your style. So, if it’s a slow person, you can simply slow down a little bit and be a little bit calmer. Or if it’s a really fast person, you can start to speed up, and you can become more energetic and so forth. That is fundamental. So, that’s one exercise I do recommend to everybody. It’ll improve your speaking and your listening skills.

Silence, a few minutes of silence every day, that’s a really good thing to do. Silence is the baseline and it’s quite rare in urban situations now that we get any silence at all. I’d be happy to define silence this absence of human noise. You know, a bird song, running water, wind in leaves, those are pretty acceptable departures from absolute silence. It’s rare that we will get absolute silence anyway. And if you can’t get it, anything approximating to it, just a quiet room, that’ll be fine even if there’s a little background hum of some kind. Just sitting with yourself, recalibrating your ears, because silence is the baseline. Silence is the base for all sound. It’s what makes sound meaningful after all. It’s the gaps between the words that make speech meaningful.

And the same thing for music, of course. With no gaps it’s simply cacophony. So, silence is very important. And if you can reestablish your relationship with silence, it will make your listening more acute. And, also, every time you encounter it, it kind of recalibrates your ears like a saw bell in a mill, it resets you and it allows you to listen again afresh. Any recording engineer will tell you about they have to stop every hour or so, going somewhere quiet because otherwise they’d go deaf really to the mix. They can’t hear it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I’ve heard that from my audio engineers.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

Julian Treasure
Yes, not so much with human voice. You can go on longer. But if it’s serious music, then you really do need those gaps. Another great exercise, is RASA. And apart from being the Sanskrit word for juice, that stands for receive, appreciate, summarize, ask.

So, receive is actually facing the person and looking at them. It’s amazing how much partial listening we do in the world. “I am listening to you.” “No, you’re typing away on a mobile. You’re doing a text. That’s not listening, that’s doing a text.” So, doing nothing else, it’s a great, great gift to give somebody, to give them a hundred percent of your attention, just lay everything else down, and stop and try.

Honestly, I recommend anybody listening to this, after you’ve heard this podcast, go and try this at home. When you get home, actually listen to the people in your family or to the first people you come across, your friends, whoever it is, and you’ll probably find their reaction will be something like, “What are you doing?” because they’re not used to it at all. They’re used to you being half out of the room, or doing something else, or tapping away on something, and they’re getting the scrag end of your attention, as we would say in the UK.

So, it’s a wonderful gift. I reckon there are billions of people on this planet who’ve never been properly listened to in that way. So, that’s receive. Face them, lean forward, eyes on them, doing nothing else. Appreciate is the little noises and gestures that we make to show that we’re with them in the conversation. So, it’s hmm, ahh, really, huh, which you’re not doing at the moment because we’re on a kind of radio style conversation, and it’s a bit disconcerting.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I was just tweeting. Sorry, Julian.

Julian Treasure
As you do. Yes, I’m watching football here at the same time. So, radio has got its own rules, and podcasting has got its own rules for this, but in a normal conversation, you’d be doing that, I’d be doing that, and if you’re face to face, gestures too, little raised eyebrows, smiles, nods, bobs of the head, that kind of thing that we’re mirroring gestures, we do that naturally if we’re really engaged.

The S is summarize and that is very, very important to the word so. I would like to form a society for the preservation of the word so, which is becoming entirely abused, I’m sad to say. I’ll say to people, “What’s your name?” “So, I’m John.” “I’m sorry, you’re John because I just asked you?” So has a logical flow. This, so, that. It’s the same as then, or thus, or therefore. And, in conversations, it’s a really, really powerful word. I’ve even seen people walk onto the TED stage and start to talk with the word so. So what? Hang on. There’s no point of reference here.

It’s becoming debased by being deployed in that way, I think, but it’s really powerful. So allows you to close doors in the corridor of your conversation. “So, what I’ve understood you to say is this, is that correct?” “Yup.” “Okay. Now we move onto that.” Or if you’re in a meeting, “So, what we’ve all agreed now is this. Let’s move onto topic two.” If you haven’t got a so person in a meeting, it can be a very, very long meeting indeed, going around in circles. What is it they say about meetings? Meetings are places where you take minutes and waste hours. We all know that one.

And then the A is ask. Ask questions all the way through, at the beginning, at the end. Open-ended questions are good – why, what, where, when, how, who – because they preclude the answer yes or no, and they get more information. Questions show you’re interested and they allow you also to make the conversation interesting for you because you can start to help direct it in the directions you find most stimulating. “So, that’s really interesting. Tell me more about this,” is a way of moving the conversation into the areas you find most interesting, profitable, useful, fascinating, stimulating, whatever it may be. So, that’s RASA. Very useful exercise in conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so, I said so. Oh, you got me on hyper alert here.

Julian Treasure
No, that’s good because there was a natural flow there. Therefore, thus, that’s correct.

Pete Mockaitis
I see, as opposed to indiscriminately thrown anywhere and being your vocal pause crutch.

Julian Treasure
Yes, absolutely.
It is very, very important. It’s a little word but it’s a very important little word. I talk about words to avoid in speaking.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s grab a few of those, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Yeah, okay. We can have fun with that. I was just going to say one of those is like bindweed because the moment you start using it, it will crop up all over the place.

The word just. Now, as an adjective, that’s terrific. You know, “He’s a just man.” “Just mean and fair,” and so forth, that’s a lovely word. But as an adverb, or a modifier, particularly as a minimizer, it’s a pernicious little word that will creep in all over the place, “He’s just a child.” “Well, okay, that’s somewhat patronizing.” But it’s when we use it to minimize our own, “I’ll just have one.” Does anybody ever just had one and regretted it?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve got a lot of emails that are just following up.

Julian Treasure
Yes, just following up. It’s an excuse and I did this on stage a lot. So, I come on and I say, “I’d just like to start with some housekeeping announcements,” and then I go back and redo the thing and come on and say, “I’d like to start with some housekeeping announcements.” Now, which one of those is most powerful? The second one.

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

Julian Treasure
Because the first one, the just, is saying, “Sorry, do you mind if I…?” It’s an apology. It’s a kind of weaselly apology, minimizing the effect. So, when you send an email saying, “Just following up,” it’s a kind of apology, “Sorry, to bother you. I’m just following up only. That’s all I’m doing. Just a little tiny thing.” And I think that word is one to be aware of. I’m not saying never use it but I am saying you might have a little alarm bell ringing when you use it, and say, “Would it be more powerful to delete?” I nearly said just to delete that. So, that’s where it starts to get in.

The other word that I really recommend banning altogether from vocabulary is the word should. I cannot think of a single profitable use of that word. If we use it to other people, it’s judgmental, “You should really lose some weight.” Ouch. Or if we’re using it on ourselves, it’s self-recriminatory and it’s kind of wallowing in guilt, “I should’ve done that. I should’ve been. I should’ve…” there’s no good outcome from that particular word.

“I will,” that’s a different thing. “I’ve learned a lesson,” “I did this,” “I will, in future, do that.” Should? I can’t see the use of it personally so I banned it from my vocabulary quite a long time ago and I’ve been happier since, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. So, those are some things not to say. And I also want to get your view in terms of you’ve got the listening part down in a rapid summary format. What are your top pieces of wisdom that you think folks really need to absorb when it comes to speaking such that they’re heard after they’ve done their listening?

Julian Treasure
There is content and there is delivery, and they’re both important. Actually, for the book, I interviewed Chris Anderson, the head of TED, and asked him that question, “Which is the most important, Chris?” And he said, “Well, they’re both important but, if forced to choose, I would go for content because I will sit and stay with somebody who’s delivering earth-shattering content in a pretty boring way. However, if somebody is delivering rapid nonsense brilliantly, it’s just irritating, isn’t it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

Julian Treasure
So, content is very important. If you want to be heard, then getting your content right is crucial. And that, again, comes back, if you ask me, to asking the question “What’s the listening…?” It’s the question I ask myself before I’ll do any talk to a group of people or even thousands of people, “What’s the listening I’ll be speaking into? Are they going to want facts and figures? Are they going to want to hear about all aspects of sound, speaking, listening? Or is it a particular aspect which is going to touch their lives? What are their problems? What are the things I can give them which will give them value in their lives?”

Asking yourself those questions is really important so that you start to automatically, you start to have a sensitivity for what, of all the things you could talk about, which ones is going to be valuable to that person. And that’s another part of the secret here, isn’t it? It’s not about you, it’s about them. Any speaker who goes on stage and it’s all about me, that’s not nowhere too well.

There are two particular addictions, I think, we have as a society now which get in the way of designing good content. And those are looking good, we all like to look good, but if it becomes what you’re about, that really doesn’t fly very well in any conversation and particularly not on stage. And the other one is if there’s one thing we like more than looking good is being right. Now if you get into being right, that makes you very hard to listen to, I think. It’s like a hole in the bucket. And the easiest way to be right, of course, is to make somebody else wrong. Hence, we have this kind of addiction to outrage going with the media. We have polarization in politics. We have the politics of shouting. It’s not the politics of listening, is it?

Insults, it’s demonization, it’s caricaturing, and that is a slippery slope. That’s a long slippery slope down to some pretty unpleasant stuff because listening is the doorway to understanding, and if we don’t understand, if we’re not interested in understanding people, or listening to people we disagree with, then civil society kind of breaks down.

I gave a TEDx Talk in Houses of Parliament and again in Athens, the cradle of democracy, arguing that listening actually is the sound of democracy because without it, democracy will not work. We have to have civilized disagreement. And it’s impossible to have that if you’re in the business of, “If you disagree, I’m going to shout you down,” or even worse, go down that slippery slope, “If I disagree with you, I’ll kill you,” which is what ISIS is all about and so forth.

So, I think it’s very important to consider the other person in conversation, and that really will help to shape what we’re saying. The content will be much more accurate. I think it was Barack Obama who said, “I like to listen to people especially when I disagree with them.” And listening is a very good way of refining your content as well dynamically, I’m talking about. So, you might start a conversation with an agenda, with some things you believe are going to be valuable and interesting to talk about, having thought about the person you’re speaking to, and then it’ll get reformatted as the dynamic conversation takes place.

Well, if you’re not listening to them, they won’t listen much to you. Whereas, if you listen carefully to ask them questions, people love talking about themselves. For anybody who’s listening to this who says, “Nobody ever listens to me,” try listening to them, become a great listener, ask them questions, little questions, “Really? Tell me more,” that is a gold dust phrase, “Tell me more about that.” Because it draws people out, it shows you’re interested in them, it creates a kind of dynamic of interests which will then reflect back and they’ll start asking you questions and you can speak. So, that’s the way it goes.

Listening and speaking always in this dance. Of course, content is only part of the story because there’s also how you say it. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

Julian Treasure
And it is unfortunate for some people that they have challenges to overcome with their voice. I mean, we’re all born with this amazing instrument, the human voice, which can do anything from Tibetan undertone chanting to Pavarotti to you name it. It is an incredible instrument. Most people, in my experience, are only exploring a small fraction of the capability and power of their voice.

So, if you really want to be heard, my strongest advice to you is go get a coach. We don’t get taught how to speak in schools. Even less do we get taught how to listen, by the way. We get taught how to read and write. Speaking and listening? We’re expected to pick those up along the way somehow and yet they’re both really important skills.

So, there’s the vocal toolbox that I went through in, I think, it was 12 minutes in the TED Talk on speaking. And the vocal toolbox is something that most people don’t even know they have. You can rummage around in there and you can play with things like pitch, pace, prosody or prosody. I prefer the prosody pronunciation, but each to their own. Silence, gaps, volume level, we even get really loud, talk, you can whisper to make a point.

So, the dynamics of conversation are really, really important. One of the most significant things is varying. So, if you have a voice that does this, every time you speak you have this cadence, pretty soon you’re going to get people going to sleep because they’ve heard everything that you said, said in the same way over and over again. You know, it’s like a hypnotic thing. You put people into a sort of trance by repetitive cadences, so it’s very important to vary your pace, your tone and pitch, not so much your timber probably, although you can do that too. Use silence, leave gaps. I mean, on stage, I won’t do it now because this is, again, a podcast/radio, and if you leave dead air, people get very disconcerted and they start fumbling to, “Have I lost a signal?”

But on stage, I demonstrate this. I can go quiet for the longest time. I’m talking about 30, 45 seconds. That’s a long time on stage. And everybody just sits there. The big fear most people have about public speaking is drying up. Well, you can take a long time to think. You do not have to fill in conversation, or in a presentation, or a talk, you don’t have to fill every second with babble, with uhms and ahhs. It makes it absolutely difficult to understand if you’re always on. You need the light and shade, the valleys, to create the mountains, and that’s a big part of delivering interesting content.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And so, I put a good bit of effort into having some variance on my pace, on my pitch, and on my volume. Can we hear a little bit about the other three tools here, the register, the timber, and the prosody and how we might think about that?

Julian Treasure
Absolutely. Well, register, there are four registers actually of the human voice, and two of them are very rarely used, and I wouldn’t recommend people using them. There’s one I can’t do at all which is called whistle register. It’s very, very, very high up. It’s like an ultra-soprano so I won’t even try that. The next one down is falsetto register, and that will be familiar to anybody who likes Monty Python or anybody who likes a great deal of pop music.

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

Julian Treasure
So, Monty Python stuff. Yes, exactly. Monty Pythons stars are, “He’s a very naughty boy,” these men, ludicrously pretending to be women by moving into falsetto like this. It’s not the most powerful way to speak. It can be very good for singing and all the way from the ‘50s to the ‘60s, you think of Frankie Valli, the ‘70s, the Bee Gees, more currently with Coldplay, all sorts of bands sing a great deal in falsetto. It’s very acceptable as a powerful singing style but if I walk on stage, “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Lovely to be here,” it’s a little bit soft, ineffectual, and deferential, and also comical so I wouldn’t recommend speaking there very much.

The next one down is the one we use most of the time, it’s the modal register. And that ranges all the way from your nose right down to your chest. Now, of course, your voice comes from your vocal cords, which are in your throat, but you can resonate in different places by focusing on that. So, for example, if I go up into my nose here, you can hear the difference. And if I’m in my throat, this is a throat voice, which is a little bit light and what most people do most of the time. And then if I move down into my chest voice, you can immediately hear the base coming because I’m resonating with my whole chest. That’s a really big space.

Now, you can practice moving your voice around by placing your hand on your chest or your throat or your nose, and trying to feel the vibration. I do recommend working on the chest voice because deeper, generally, means more significant in terms of voices. We vote for politicians with deeper voices, other things being equal. Margaret Thatcher, the former British prime minister, had vocal coaching to lower her voice by a couple of tones because she felt that the higher female voice is being taken less seriously in the House of Commons.

So, it’s a pretty good idea if you want to be taken seriously to be speaking down here instead of speaking up here. It’s a simple thing and it can be practiced by anybody. Put your hand on your sternum, that bone in your chest, and practice resonating so you can start to feel the vibrations with your fingers, and that’s a really good way of moving your voice down there.

The final register is vocal fry and, unfortunately, it’s become pretty common. Vocal fry sounds like this. It’s a very lazy way of speaking, “I’m really excited about this.” I don’t think so. It’s, unfortunately, a very common habit now among younger people. Started, I think, largely probably in the Valley in the West Coast, Los Angeles style speaking. It’s kind of cool to be like, “Yeah. Well, hi, how are you?’ It sounds kind of lazy, cool, insouciant, but also disengaged, pretty ugly. It’s not very good for your voice. And if you want to speak powerfully, I do advise get out of there as quickly as possible, back into the modal register, get that chest voice going.

It’s a shame to hear people speaking like this because your voice is so powerful and so amazing. It can do so many things. So, that’s a little piece on registers and quite useful to be conscious of these, and to start taking control instead of letting it just be what you have habitually done your whole life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Julian Treasure
Then prosody, or prosody, well, that’s the singsong speech. That’s the way we vary our tone and our pace in order to be understood. So, it’s completely different to speak in this, well, quite lively, passionate way as opposed to speaking entirely on one note and at one pace without any prosody at all. I don’t think anybody would find this very interesting for very long. That’s robotic, isn’t it? It’s boring. The word monotonous comes from mono tone, one tone, speaking in one note. So, we want to avoid that.

Now, some people have very restricted prosody. Unfortunately, it’s the way they’ve learned to speak or it’s something natural. Again, you can work on that and there are exercises in the book and in the course, particularly, they’re exercises which helps you boost the range. I mean, that’s what they do. It’s like doing anything in a gym. You work in a gym to build muscle. You might not need it all the time but you give yourself more range. And it’s the same thing with prosody. You can do exercises to increase your range and become more able to express yourself in a fascinating way. You may not want to exaggerate it, you might not want to go completely like this, nevertheless, it’s good to have the range because you can then be conscious about how you deploy it.

And, again, there’s culture here. Some cultures, you know, Italians really like this. You know, again, Latin countries tend to be more expressive. Scandinavian countries tend to be a little bit more like this, “Yes, we’re wildly excited about this.” And you just have to know. I remember a gig in Finland years ago and there was like (soft clapping sounds) and I thought, “I bombed. What happened?” And I went down for coffee, and people coming up to me and saying, “That was the best talk we have heard for many years.” So, it’s just the way they are there, and you have to adapt. Again, it’s part of, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” To adapt to the listening of the people you’re talking to. You don’t get a lot of whooping and hollering in Finland, that’s for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

Julian Treasure
Well, timber is the feel of a voice. It’s tasting the voice just like you would taste a hot chocolate. And the words to describe voices that we tend to like are similar actually to the words you would use to describe a hot chocolate – rich, dark, warm, sweet, smooth, those kinds of words. If that’s not you, don’t panic because timber can be adjusted a great deal. If you have a little squeaky voice or something like that, go and see a coach.

And people always ask me, “How do I do that?” Well, simply search on the internet for vocal coach, voice coach, drama coach, singing coach, any of those and you’ll get to a group of people, phone some of them up, choose two or three that you get on well with on the phone, and explain what you want and see if they can help you, and then have a tryout session, and then you’ll find one that you really click with, and you can do a program of work with over a series of months. And they will transform what you’re able to do. They’ll give you the power to project the understanding of breath and how to use it effectively, how to use your diaphragm effectively.

Posture, which is a huge part of the problem for a lot of people who are kind of slumped over, or stretching, or compressing their vocal cords. I’m sitting at a desk, speaking into a microphone. If I sit like most people do when they’re having conversations, leaning forward like this, you can hear the effect on my voice because I’m stretching my vocal cords, and it’s not going to be me at my best. I can’t get into my chest voice freely. On the other hand, if I put my head right back into my shoulders, I’m compressing my vocal cords and it sounds like this.

So, having your vocal cords vertical and having good posture is a very important part of speaking powerfully, freeing your voice to do its best, and of looking like you are confident. Again, if you’re doing, you know, the Amy Cuddy TED Talk about power poses, anything that makes you bigger boost your testosterone, makes you look bigger, if you’re one of those people whose whole gesture template is about making yourself smaller, gesture is where you’re crouched, you’re hunched, or folded, or whatever it may be, again that’s going to affect the way people receive you because they can see that you don’t feel confident. So, there are things to practice here. A vocal coach or a drama coach can certainly help with any of those.

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

Julian Treasure
Well, I think we’ve covered quite a lot there, haven’t we? I come back all the time to that key question “What’s the listening…?” because listening is the center of everything. I really do think never have we needed listening in the world more than we do right now.

Interrupting has become an absolute epidemic. It’s very, very rare to hear anybody speak in a media program for more than 20 seconds without being interrupted. And that’s not just there, by the way. I came across a horrifying stat the other day. In your country, in America, do you know the average length of time that you or I get to speak when we go and see our doctor, before we get interrupted, this is our opening, “Doc, so what’s wrong with me, doctor, is?” How long do you think they’d give us?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I don’t know. Maybe 15 seconds.

Julian Treasure
Yeah. Well, you’re not far off. Actually, it’s 18 seconds is the average. Average 18 seconds. So, some are shorter than that. How you can get an idea of what’s wrong with somebody in 9 seconds, or 7 seconds, I have no idea. Barely being able to say my name in that time. So, I think it is pandemic this interrupting impatience. We need patience to listen. And there are four Cs I talk about in the book and the course for good listening, which is consciousness, that is to say being aware you’re doing something. It’s not like hearing. Hearing is a natural capability. Listening is a skill. Your practicing skill.

The second C is compassion. It is really important to be compassionate, to seek to understand the other person. If that’s where you’re coming from, you can listen really, really well. The third C is commitment, because you have to stop doing other things in order to listen well, and that does take commitment. I would always recommend, again, if you want to be heard, it’s worth making a little contract in the conversation as in, “Do you have 5 minutes because I’d really like to speak to you?” And if they say yes, you have that contract for 5 minutes.

If you pile in and you haven’t asked their permission, you may well be pushing more toward uphill here, working into the wind. It could be they’ve got other things going on you don’t know about, and you’re rudely interrupting whatever they’re doing. And the final C, which is possibly the most important one, is curious. Curiosity. Ferocious curiosity to learn, so, “I might learn something here. Where are they coming from? I think that is absolute rubbish. But how on earth is it they thought that? Why did they have that point of view?” That kind of dialogue in your head makes you a much better listener.

So, the four Cs of good listening, and I do encourage everybody to pay attention to their listening.

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

Julian Treasure
The first is my favorite quote of all time probably about listening, which is from Ernest Hemingway who said, “I like to listen. I’d learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” And he’s absolutely right. The other quote I’ll give you relates to organizations because I imagine quite a lot of people listening to this, given the nature of the podcast, are working in organizations or even running organizations.
The Organizational Listening Project was done in 2016 and it reviewed a whole range of different organizations, and it found, and here is the quote, “Most organizations listen sporadically at best, often poorly, and sometimes not at all.” So, the problem is individual and the problem is organizational as well. We need to address it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite book?

Julian Treasure
The Universal Sense by a guy I know quite well, Seth Horowitz, who’s an expert in many different forms of sound. And it is a fascinating book. Very easy to read about why hearing is so universal, why it is that there are virtually no vertebrates on this planet without ears. So, plenty without eyes but hearing is such a universal sense.

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

Julian Treasure
Well, there are lots of levels for anybody who’s kind of found what I’m talking about here interesting. The book, of course, is available at all the usual places, it’s called How to Be Heard. You can go to my website JulianTreasure.com. And if you pop your email address in there, then we will send you five listening exercises, two of which I’ve talked about in this podcast, little videos by me, absolutely free, which are good exercises for improving your conscious listening skills. And if you want to access the course, that’s at www.SpeakListenBe.com and it’s currently on, I think, with a big discount, so it’s worth going there and checking that out if you’re serious about speaking powerfully
And then if you’re interested in Moodsonic, The Sound Agency’s website is www.TheSoundAgency.com and there’s a separate website for Moodsonic at Moodsonic.com. So, there’s plenty of resources there. Look forward to anybody who comes by. I’d love to hear from you.

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

Julian Treasure
Yes, listen. It is really as simple as that. Ask yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?” So, I would actually just refine it. Listen to the listening. Get into that habit and I really believe you’ll find it transforms your communication at work. If you start to listen to the listening, asking yourself that question, “What’s the listening I’m speaking into?”

Pete Mockaitis
Julian, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and all the ways that you hear and are heard.

Julian Treasure
Well, thank you so much. It’s really good to be back. So, thank you, Pete, and I hope everybody got something out of that.

525: Delivering Presentations with Presence and Confidence with Christine Clapp

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Christine Clapp says: "The speech isn't about you. The speech is about doing something for your audience."

Christine Clapp shares best practices for preparing and delivering engaging presentations.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The most common mistake in presentation preparation
  2. The five S’s of confident speakers
  3. How to eliminate filler words

About Christine:

Christine Clapp is the author of Presenting at Work: A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts and the president of Spoken with Authority, a Washington, D.C.-based presentation skills consultancy that includes a team of six expert coaches. Through training programs and coaching engagements, Christine and her team help professionals at law firms, corporations, associations, and non-profit organizations build the confidence to connect and the capacity to lead.

Christine holds two degrees in communication: a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. She also taught public speaking to undergraduate and graduate students at The George Washington University for thirteen years.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Christine Clapp Interview Transcript

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

Christine Clapp
Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was intrigued to learn that your family is on a mission to visit all 60 national parks, and you’ve got almost a third of them down already. So, what’s the story here and which one is the best?

Christine Clapp
As a family, we started going to a few national parks and then we read about someone who had made it to every single national park, and we thought, “That’s a really great goal because getting to them requires that you go to different parts of the U.S.” and we thought that that was a laudable way to see the country and expose our kids to some interesting and beautiful sights and different people because we’re based here in Washington, D.C. and there’s a lot more to the U.S. than Washington, D.C.

And so far, I have to say my favorite park would be…it’s tough because I like different parks for different reasons. This last summer we went to Isle Royale National Park which is technically in Michigan but it’s very close to Canada and Lake Superior, and it was great because there were so few people there. You have to take a boat or seaplane to get there. And when our seaplane landed, we got a personal tour and briefing by the park ranger, and it was very different than going to Yellowstone or Glacier where there’s mile-long lines to get into the parks in the summer. So, I have to say that was great.

And then another one, we went to Teddy Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota a few summers ago and it’s really beautiful. It’s definitely off the beaten path and I think not many people get there but it’s worth seeing. It has some incredible hikes and wild horses and longhorn steer and bison. It was great.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. I’ve got a posse that they’ve sort of found their favorite spot and they return there every other year for camping. It is in the Clearwater National Forest in Idaho and, wow.

Christine Clapp
Nice. That’s fantastic. Yeah, I’m actually from Washington State, so this summer we’re going try to go to Mount Rainier, North Cascades and maybe hop down in Oregon. I’m blanking on the big…oh, Crater Lake. So, maybe we’ll get a chance to swing through Idaho and go to that National Forest, you said?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. It’s a good spot. We mostly just sit around in beauty.

Christine Clapp
It sounds lovely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Well, so let’s talk about when you are not isolated from humanity and instead are presenting. You wrote a book Presenting at Work, and I was intrigued by the subtitle, A Guide to Public Speaking in Professional Contexts. And I want to get your take, how do you think about how speaking at work differs from other kinds of public speaking?

Christine Clapp
That’s a great question. I think the differentiator here is not between work and home, but it’s differentiating among the type of communication you do at work, or it’s a lack of differentiating. Many times, when we work with professionals, they were introduced to them and they say, “Oh, it’s really nice that you do public speaking training and coaching, but I’m not a public speaker.” But this is an individual who has phone calls every day, who leads meetings, who briefs clients, who gets asked by their director or partner about a project that they’re working on. They might give a training program or a webinar. They might speak at a professional association, and perhaps they give a toast at their company party yet they don’t think that they’re “public speaker.”

And our argument is that every conversation you have at a networking event, or at the watercooler, or meeting, or phone call, or someone popping their head in the office, those are public speaking situations at work, and there are ways that you can improve your performance in all of them. We also believe that if you aren’t working on improving your performance in those day-to-day conversations and meetings and briefings, it’s really hard to have the experience and to do well when you have those high-pressure, high-stakes, once a year, once in a career presentations that you have an opportunity to give.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that makes total sense. And you’re right, when you think of public speaking, that can create a picture of, “Oh, I’m on stage and there’s a giant crowd,” and away we go, dramatic TED Talk, keynote is unfolding. But, yeah, it’s certainly much broader than that in terms of perhaps more day-to-day encounters. Well, I’d love to get your take maybe if you can orient us to perhaps a story. Have you seen a client have a dramatic transformation and how did that go?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. Well, I would offer up that I myself was someone who was a terrible public speaker, so anyone who’s out there feeling like, “Oh, this woman, Christine, she has always been a great speaker, and I can’t take her advice because she’s naturally gifted and that’s just not something that I’m good at.” I want to let all of you know that I, too, struggled as a public speaker. It was something I was very uncomfortable with.

In fact, when my dad wrote a holiday letter when I was in second or third grade, he had a line in it that I was doing well in school and thriving, but a book report was a skill that I had yet to master. That prospect of doing a felt board presentation on a book I read as an eight-year old was overwhelming to me, and that’s something that dogged me in elementary school, in middle school, in high school.

And when I got to college, I was interested in the major of rhetoric. I went to a small school in Salem, Oregon and it’s only one of three universities at the time that had an undergraduate degree in the study of persuasion, which is rhetoric. And I was really interested in it but I almost changed my major when I found out that you had to have oral communication proficiency, which meant that you had to do the debate team or do public speaking as a course for a semester.

And that experience was something that, being forced to do, I decided to do debate because I thought it’d be less painful than doing a semester of public speaking class, and I went to two debate tournaments my second semester of freshman year, and I lost all 12 of my first 12 debates. I didn’t even win one. No one even slept in and I didn’t win by default. And it was humbling, and it was frustrating, and it was eye-opening because I knew it would always hamper my leadership potential no matter what career path I went down.

So, even after losing all 12 debates, I decided to come back my sophomore year and continue debating, and I did and I worked very hard. And my coach, I think, was somewhat surprised and impressed that I came back for more. I had a great partner. I had great coaches. We had state-of-the-art VHS recording technology in our debate lab and we could video-record and review our debates, and it was a great learning experience.

By the end of the year, my partner and I had qualified to go to nationals, and we even advanced to the elimination rounds of the tournament. So, that experience and continuing to debate regionally, nationally, and internationally throughout the rest of college, and going from being terrified and unsuccessful to having fun as a public speaker and a moderate level of success, it really did change my life, and it’s something that I knew I wanted to do for other people for the rest of my life. And that’s the best thing that we get to do is we get to work with individuals.

Most of the people we do work with are really bright subject-matter experts. They’re smart, they’re driven, they’re capable, they have great things to share. They’ve just never been taught how to share it in a public speaking setting, whether that’s a small group, or a large group, or even a one-on-one conversation with a client or a colleague. And that’s where we come in, and it’s really fulfilling to see them come into their own and become more confident and capable as speakers and leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is really cool. So, let’s hear it. So, how is that done? If you find yourself terrified or at least just quite nervous when it comes to thinking about a presentation coming up, how do you, I guess, in that moment and then maybe prior to that moment, do the things you need to do so that it can become an enjoyable experience?

Christine Clapp
Well, we recommend that people take a three-pronged approach to becoming a better public speaker and presenter. And the three prongs are the long-term strategy, the midterm strategy, and the short-term strategy. If you think about the long-term strategy, you need to gain experience as a speaker. That might mean volunteering for more roles at your organization. And if you’re not finding in your current job that you have those opportunities yet, we encourage you to find opportunities through volunteer work that you may do. Maybe you’re involved in a religions institution where you can do public speaking.

But another great place for anyone across the U.S. or around the globe is Toastmasters International. Toastmasters is a public speaking organization. It’s a nonprofit. It’s a great place to find an audience if you want to get better as a public speaker. So, the long-term, we need you to get out there and do it because you’re not going to get better by thinking about it, or reading about it, or watching videos about it. You have to go out there and do it.

In the midterm, one of the big failures we see for most speakers is they don’t spend enough time working on their presentation. We talked earlier about these TED-style talks when you’re on a stage with a microphone, something like TED, a conference presentation, or a big product launch, that type of thing that a thought leader might do, that is going to take two to six months to prepare.

For many professionals when they’re doing an important briefing, doing a job pitch, if they’re going to a new position, or becoming partner or director at their firm, that’s something that’ll take one to two months. And for the more day-to-day type communication, speaking up in a meeting, doing a briefing on your monthly report, speaking to the board of directors at your organization, those types of presentations we recommend that you’d have at least one to two weeks to get ready for, and depending on how long it is, perhaps even longer. So, the midterm, you have to plan enough time to work on your presentation.

We also recommend doing 60/40. And my good friend Susan Trevor has recommended this, and I would recommend that everyone follow the 60/40 rule, which is you want to spend 60% of your time practicing your presentation and only 40% of the time on putting together the content. Most people spend 90% of the time putting down, doing research, writing things out, doing slides, and they spend very little time saying it out loud. And that’s why most people are really nervous and why most presentations fall flat. You need to put your content together, and, as you rehearse it, you will improve the content, but you also improve your familiarity and your dynamism as a speaker. So, that’s the midterm.

And then for the short-term approach, we recommend that everyone has a pre-speaking routine. Every person’s will be different, but it’s to think through, “How many hours of sleep do I need the night before my presentation? How do I stay hydrated? What do I eat to feel my best? What kind of exercise do I do in the morning of my presentation? Or, do I do yoga, or practice meditation, or mindfulness practices? When do I do my last run-through of my presentation? Do I need to talk to my mom or dad or my best friend on the phone to pump me up? Or do I have a passage of scripture, or a quotation that makes me feel great, or a playlist on my music?” Everyone needs to find out how they can be at their mental and physical best in the day or two before presentation, because if you’re not feeling well, you’re not going to present well no matter how much time you spend in the long-term or in the midterm.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy, there’s so much good stuff there. So, thank you for bringing it. So, that 60/40 rule, that’s interesting. I do not do that, and I’m a professional speaker, in that I’m paid to keynote dozens of times. I guess I’m really intrigued by that because, in a way, I think it’s awesome in terms of, it’s like, yeah, you’re right. The 90/10 ratio of people doing right now with content to practicing is not serving them well, I think, particularly, if you’re feeling nerves.

So, that 60/40, do you recommend that for nervous people or people doing a first speech or speech they’ve done before? I guess what context do you think, and maybe I’m just hyper-fixating over this number, that’s a weakness of mine, in what context do you think the 60/40 rule is perfect and where might you want to edge those numbers in one or the other direction?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. We recommend the 60/40 rule for people who are newer to public speaking and people who are more seasoned speakers but are speaking on a topic that is fresh. So, maybe those are the numbers this month are fresh, or this new research is fresh. So, the reason why 60/40 is really helpful is that your brain will always go to, “What do I say?” before it can have bandwidth of, “How do I say it dynamically?” And until you have that repetitive practice, and for most of our speakers it’s six rehearsals out loud, six sticks. And when people get to the six rehearsals, things stick, it gets very easy for them to remember.

And the first few rehearsals for most people, you get a little bit more awkward, and stiff, and you have a hard time getting things off your tongue. But, for whatever reason, I’ve never found any research to explain why, but for most speakers, six times is when you achieve fluidity with the material and you can be in the moment. Sometimes people say to us, “If I rehearse, I don’t feel present. I’m better and I’m more myself if I’m winging it.”

But the fact is that is if you practice enough, you get over that hump of becoming awkward and a slave to your notes, and you really understand the material, and you barely have to glance at your notes or your slides, and you can be in the moment, and you can be funny, and you can respond to your audience, and you can do all the things that great speakers do.

You talked about being a keynote speaker, the fact is, is that if you talk about the same topics regularly, you’ve already done those six rehearsals. You’ve probably done it hundreds if not thousands of times. So, as you do get, like you and me, when we do similar trainings and programs, yeah, we tailor them, but we do have those core modules that we’ll follow through, and we’ve done them so many times and we can be present and in the moment. Whereas, someone who is newer to speaking, or has a new set of material, you have to do those six rehearsals until you get comfortable.

And I would argue that standup comics and trainers like you and me, most of us, we will beta test our new products, our new presentations, or our new jokes on audiences before we put them out for primetime, and it’s partly because of that. You need to get through it six times because you don’t know what people are going to laugh at, or how they’re going to react, or what stories are going to fall flat until you do those six rehearsals.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s very well-said. And I really am resonating there in terms of that hump, it makes total sense in terms of folks saying, “Hey, I feel unnatural.” It’s like, “Well, yeah, you’re in that kind of weird in-between zone. You’re going to feel unnatural. But if you get on the other side of that, then you’re going to feel even more natural than you would had you done zero because you’re able…” That’s what I find is when I’m liberated from having to remember my content, it’s just like the whole universe opens up. It’s almost like The Matrix, you know. It’s like, “I can look at you, I can listen, I can read the room,” as opposed to, “Okay, what was the next thing I was going to say?” It changes everything.

Christine Clapp
Exactly. Yeah, one of the things we also recommend that speakers do is to avoid, whenever possible, scripting their presentations word-for-word because that makes people get tied up in the specific wording and they feel like they have to memorize it word-for-word, which takes way more than six rehearsals to do. Well, that’s what trained actors do and it takes much more than six practices. That’s why we recommend using an outline that’s detailed, that’s well-researched, but that you rehearse it so you can look at the words and phrases on the sheet, and you could talk about their data and tell the stories in a natural and conversational way.

And every time you say it it’s going to be a little bit different. If you have to have a printed-out speech at the very end of your presentation to give to reporters or for the record, this is not a good way to do it, but a few of us are under those types of constraints in our professional lives. Most of us just need to be confident and accurate in having that outline, and rehearsing it is a really great way to get to that being present, and conversational, and also being able to react to the audience in real time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s dead-on. I think there’s something to be said for, perhaps, memorizing the killer line or two.

Christine Clapp
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just talking to an audio engineer today, and he said, “It’s not about the wand. It’s about the wizard.” I was like, “Oh, that’s so good. Tweet that.” So, mostly impromptu, or not impromptu, mostly kind of extemporaneous. You got your outline and then you got your couple winner lines pre-memorized perhaps.

Christine Clapp
I absolutely agree. We have a method to outline presentations, we call it the sandwich structure methodology. And we recommend, it’s on our website, SpokenWithAuthority.com, we have under Resources our speech outline tool. It’s free. Anyone can check it out and put in your content and kick out a PDF or print it off on a piece of paper. And we do have a space at the top of the paper and the bottom of the paper, we encourage you to try to keep your ideas on one page so that you’re not scripting, and that you’re thinking in terms of your arc of the story of the presentation and how all the pieces fit together. But we do have space on that piece of paper to write your opening line or two and your closing line or two.

And I don’t disagree with you on hitting other key phrases or lines in a memorized way, but the beginning and end are really important, and it’s where a lot of speakers fall flat. The introduction is when people decide if they’re going to listen to you or not. It also happens to be the one minute when people are the most nervous. Most people get into more manageable level of nervousness after the first 30 to 60 seconds of a presentation. So, we encourage you to write it out, make it really good, really catchy, and memorize word-for-word so that you can be on complete autopilot when you’re looking out into the room, at the conference table, or on the webinar, or on the stage and looking into the audience. You can deliver it really well.

And then if you completely freeze and have that moment where your mind goes blank, you can just read it off the sheet of paper, and the content is still there, and then you can get into that more extemporaneous conversational delivery in the body of the speech. And then we have at the end, places to write that last line or two, your close. In business, we oftentimes have to ask for business, or ask for the next steps, or where we’re going from here. If you don’t think about how to do that, you’re going to miss out on really crucial opportunities to advance whatever project you’re working on, but also your career.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. Let’s talk a little bit about some of those pre-speaking rituals. You gave a nice little lineup there. Could you share, what are those that you have found come up the most often for people, or you’ve seen have had the most dramatic calming effects?

Christine Clapp
The most helpful thing to do, in my opinion, for the broadest number of speakers, right, everyone is unique, but over 11 years in doing this work, one of the things that seems to have a really great effect on people who are presenting to help calm them down and to prepare them to present is to do some variation of warming up their body and their voice. And there’s a lot of different ways to do this. You may have learned something in theater that works for you, or debate, or in some other situation. But your body and your voice have to be warm in order to do your best.

We think about public speaking as being a really physically-exhausting and difficult thing to do. It’s hard to speak loudly. It’s hard to have big open gestures. It’s hard to be enthusiastic and to avoid saying uhms and ahhs, and to make eye contact. It’s hard to do that for five minutes or two hours, however short or long your presentation is. So, it’s just like running a marathon or a 10K, you don’t want to walk up to the start line completely cold.

So, some of the things we recommend you do is do some exercise in the morning, whatever that is for you that makes you feel your best so that your body is physically warmed up. You can also do some stretches. It helps to really work on the shoulders, neck, and jaw because that’s where people have the most tension as speakers. When we get nervous, our shoulders go up, it causes our larynx to come up in our throat. Our voice gets high, it gets tensed. It’s hard to project, it gets higher and softer and faster. And by relaxing the shoulders, it allows you to get to the deeper part of your voice, slow down your rate of speaking, to breathe more comfortably. So, working on the breath, the body, and then the voice. So, working on vocal warmups. And if you’ve ever watched The Anchorman, you know some of them, red leather, yellow leather, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
I was just thinking of that. Was it the bishop, butt-less chaps, or…

Christine Clapp
They’re great. We have our own whatever tongue twisters you know. We have some in our book, red leather, yellow leather. I’m encouraging you to repeat them four or five times. You want to speak lowly, loudly, slowly, and also clearly where you’re articulating and really moving your mouth and lips, and hitting every sound, stretching out your vowels, when you do your tongue twisters to do that. And that can help counteract that tendency to have the shoulders up, the voice high, and the rate fast when you first start.

If you start a presentation in that manner, it’s very hard to reverse it, so you have to start shoulders down, voice at a nice part of its range, and slow and crisp, and that’s much easier to maintain throughout.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Well, you mentioned five secrets of speaking with confidence, and each of them starts with an S, the stance, sound, smile, silence, sight. I thought I must hear a little bit about each of these.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, absolutely. Those are the five S’s and this is relevant whether you’re in your first day in your job or you’re going to retire tomorrow. These are important in every interaction in a workplace situation. Your stance is your body language, and we recommend that you try to have your body open. So, if you’re sitting down, to try to avoid crossing your arms at your chest which can come across as closed. And if you’re doing a formal presentation, coming around the lectern rather than standing behind it so you have more physical presence, or perhaps it means just when it’s your turn in the meeting, perhaps try standing up rather than sitting down. So, just having physical presence is about your stance.

Sound is about your vocal presence. So, we talked a bit about that just now about being low, loud, slow, and clear. There’s a piece called “How the Voice Persuades” and it talks about how being louder makes you more persuasive. And this is something that Aristotle and the ancient Greeks were telling us back in the 5th century BCE, but now we have empirical evidence, from a quantitative survey, that supports their recommendations. So, we want you to have that loud resonant voice so people can hear you and so that you are perceived as being more confident persuasive.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that resonates in terms – huh, resonates, it’s so meta – in terms of if you’re kind of soft. There’s a Saturday Night Live, I think with the Shy Ronnie with Andy Sandberg, he’s supposed to be a hip-hop guy but he’s really barely getting a word out there.

Christine Clapp
Kind of like Justin Timberlake?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so it’s like a joke, like, ‘Ha, ha, ha,” like that’s not going to work in that stage environment, and it’s also you’re saying, we’ve got the wisdom from the ancient rhetors as well as new science on this. So, I’m hearing that many of us could afford to be louder than we’re being right now. How loud is too loud and how do we assess that?

Christine Clapp
In all of the speakers who I’ve worked with, 99.9% of them are not too loud. We have a distorted perception of how loud we are. We also have a perception of how enthusiastic we are. We think we’re so much more loud and enthusiastic than our audiences perceive us to be. And one other thing about volume to think about is in the workplace or in the society at large, about one in ten individuals over 18 has hearing loss. When you get over 55, that goes up to a much higher rate of individuals, so you might have three in ten individuals who have hearing loss. And when you get to folks who are in their 60s and 70s, so some of the leaders of our organizations, people are working longer and are active and they’re participating in the workplace, the number of people who experience hearing loss is really significant.

I’m happy to share some numbers that we have with you all. But it’s a matter of people being able to be included in your conversations. And if you’re ever given a microphone to present at an event, always take the microphone. You may not know why you’re given a microphone, someone may have hearing loss, or it may be something that they absolutely have to have to participate. So, when you say, “Oh, I’m fine. I can speak loudly,” it’s like you’re saying, “We shouldn’t have a ramp out front for people in a wheelchair.” Like, you can’t see people who are hearing impaired so you should always speak loudly and always take the microphone.

So, there’s body language, there’s vocal presence, the last three are smile, silence, and sight of the five elements of your executive presence, your professional presence. Smile is your enthusiasm, and we don’t recommend that you smile when you’re delivering bad news, but we do recommend that you speak with enthusiasm and passion whenever you’re communicating, and that you show appropriate facial expressions to whatever you’re communicating. You always want the verbal and nonverbal to match, because when the verbal and nonverbal conflict, people get confused about what your message actually is, but you want to make sure that you’re showing energy, passion, and enthusiasm whenever you’re speaking, and smile is our shorthand for that concept.

Silence is trying to avoid filler words uhm, ah, like, you know, so, kind of, sort of, okay, right, and, between every sentence. These are words and phrases that make us look less polished and concise. They also can be distracting when we use a high degree of them, 10, 12 per minute gets to that point where people are conscious about it and they start to count them.

And then, lastly, is your sight or eye contact. One of the reasons why we encourage people to avoid scripting is we don’t want you to read. Being able to look at people is so important to build rapport, whether it’s with a colleague or client, and you have to get those eyes out of your notes. So, having words and phrases that you’ve rehearsed provides the setting. And then when you look up, you should hold your gaze, and this is for the U.S. or Western Europe.

There are cultural distinctions with eye contact, but a three-second eye contact, one, Mississippi, two, Mississippi, three, Mississippi, before blinking or looking away is absolutely appropriate in a U.S. or Western European or North American context, in a business setting, in a conversation, or even personal setting. And most people, they might hold their eye contact one to two seconds, so having that long eye contact can help establish your level of confidence and rapport with your listener.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a nice lineup there. And so, I’d love to get your take when it comes to those vocal pauses. It is so funny, I find that mine evolved over time in terms of I think I’ve eliminated a fair number of ahs, uhms, likes, you knows, and then I discovered from my coaching work, I tried to seem less, I guess, in-your-face or confrontational so I found myself saying the phrase “I would say…” and then I caught myself saying that a lot when I was a guest on an interview, and I thought, “That makes me seem less authoritative and confident about that response. Like, this is just my opinion as opposed to some empirical fact, data-driven research.” I just said you know. Now you got me hyper-aware. So, how do you recommend folks work on purging those vocal pauses from their speaking?

Christine Clapp
Yeah, it is really important, and I’m glad you brought up that notion of qualifying what you’re saying because it is important to avoid and understand that can undermine your credibility. It’s also something that we see more commonly among women than men. Some of those patterns they come up in oral communication but also written in email communication, especially when people say, “I think we should do this,” instead of, “We should do this,” and also, “I just wanted to see if you could…” instead of saying, “Can you please…” or, “Please do this.”

And I’m glad that you mentioned it because I do think it’s important especially for junior and mid-level professionals to be aware of those kinds of constructions that might limit their leadership potential or their perceived level of confidence. But the way that we recommend that people avoid filler words is that they put their lips together and pause. One of the reasons why people use filler words is because they’re uncomfortable with silence which is, again, something that’s culturally situated and it’s not that way in every culture, but in the United States and Western Europe there generally is a distaste for silence when you have the floor, whether it’s in a phone call, or negotiation, or presentation.

You have to have silence though. It’s really important. It allows you to breathe. It allows you to avoid those filler words that can be distracting, annoying, or undermine your credibility. It also provides people a moment to catch up with your train of thought. If you are speaking to an international audience, and there is a translator, those pauses are really important so that a translator can catch up, or an interpreter if you’re speaking to individuals who are hard of hearing. So, those pauses are really, really important.

Putting your lips together is something that feels awkward. It doesn’t look awkward to people who are listening to you. And a way that we teach our clients to get in the habit of putting their lips together where there’s a comma, where there’s a period, or they don’t know what to say next, whether it’s they lost their train of thought in a presentation, or they’re asked a question off the cuff and they need to think of a good response, is we do the handclap toe tap technique. And this is something you could do when you’re practicing to give an update in a meeting or to give a speech. We want you to run through a couple times on your own so you get more fluid with the material, then you can do a handclap every time you get to a period or a comma. And every time your hands clap, your lips go together. And that’s when you’re practicing gets you into the habit.

And then from a handclap, you go to a toe tap, so you have an audible sound of your toe hitting the floor when your lips are together. And then when you’re in a meeting or standing up giving your presentation, you go from the handclap to the toe tap to just scrunching your toes in your shoes and grabbing the floor, and it allows you to remind yourself to do something when your lips are closed to have those pauses, but no one can perceive it unless, of course, you’re wearing flipflops at work but that’s another situation to discuss for a later date.

But it’s the idea of taking one habit and giving yourself a less-problematic habit, which is the same strategy that people use to stop smoking. So, you might go from smoking to the Nicorette patch, to the Nicorette gum, to a regular gum, and you have gone from one habit to the other. That’s the same thing as the handclap to the toe tap to the scrunching your toes when your lips are closed, and it’s a process. Just know that when you’re tired, you’re going to use more junk words. The fewer rehearsals you’ve had the more junk words you’ll use. If you’ve had a drink at the company party, you’ll use more junk words in your toast than if you gave your toast before. Yeah, that’s why we have the one glass of champagne. Well, you never want to take a microphone after one glass.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so much rich stuff here. Christine, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention for professionals before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Christine Clapp
Yeah, I would recommend that no matter what space you’re in, no matter how technical your work is, remember that being a leader in your organization or your industry will require presentations, whether it’s to ask for money to do your research, or whether it’s to pitch clients for new business, or whether it’s to garner votes to be in a position that you are on the ballot for. It’s not something that anyone in a leadership role can escape. And I would also argue that why would you want to escape public speaking? In the sense that if you have great ideas, public speaking is, in my opinion, the pen and the microphone, those are the two most powerful ways of sharing those ideas.

And I think, as we move to more and more video, and people consume information in shorter and shorter spurts of time, and we have better internet and bandwidth, I think we’re going to see more and more of the spoken word than the written word as a way that people learn, so don’t shy away from public speaking. You will need it for your leadership journey.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Christine, let’s now hear about some of your favorite things. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Christine Clapp
“Do or do not. There is no try,” I think is a great quotation because you could practice and put things on the backburner forever, but when you’re 85% ready to give a presentation, go do it. It’s never going to be perfect. There’s never a perfect speech, there’s always three speeches. There’s a speech that you plan, there’s a speech you give, and there’s a speech you wish you would’ve given, and they’re never the same. So, just go out there, do the best you can, and embrace it in its imperfection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And can you share a favorite study, or experiment, or bit of research?

Christine Clapp
Yeah. Well, I mentioned earlier that the ancient Greeks had this in the 5th century before the common era. If you aren’t familiar with Aristotle, his treatise on rhetoric is the foundation of modern-day persuasion. It is not an empirical research document. It is in the humanities but it’s the root of the principles that we do our empirical research on in persuasion and communication today, much of it. So, I would have people learn about ethos, pathos, and logos, and artistic proofs, and inartistic proofs, and get a good grounding in Aristotle, and from there start looking at some of the present-day empirical research on the areas that you’re interested in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book? I guess Rhetoric is one of them.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, Rhetoric is one of them. Yeah, it’s not a super easy read but definitely worth checking out the concepts. People think that it was an unfinished work of Aristotle, which makes it a little bit harder to read than some of his other work. But if you can get a concise summary of the points in it, that’s very useful.

Other books that are more recent other than ancient Greek treatises, I would recommend a couple. So, a few of my favorite books are Resonate by Nancy Duarte.

Pete Mockaitis
We just had her on the show recently.

Christine Clapp
Did you, really? Oh, that’s so wonderful.

Pete Mockaitis
She’s great.

Christine Clapp
Yeah, she’s great. So, I listen to her podcast episode, and also read her book Resonate. She also has a book called slide:ology that’s great. Another one that I would recommend for folks who struggle with vocal quality, there’s a book called Full Voice by Barbara McAfee. Another two that are in the same genre but are both worth reading, there’s Talk Like TED by Carmine Gallo.

Pete Mockaitis
We had him, too.

Christine Clapp
Oh, he’s great. Yeah, and his perspective is you need to identify ways that you can draw from a TED-style of speaking and bring it to the workplace because everyone in your audience at work has been watching TED Talks at home and on their coffee break, and the see them at conferences and learning events. So, if you’re not borrowing the trappings for your report to the board, or for your briefing, or your educational program, they’re going to see a disconnect between you and leadership.

And then another one is Chris Anderson, the TED Director, his book is called TED Talks which is also another great book on the TED style but it’s more focused on speakers who are looking to do a TED-style talk, which is something that’s becoming more and more common at conferences. So, many of the speakers who we are working on TED Talks now, they’re subject-matter experts who are at their association or their industry conference, and they’re doing a 20-minute TED-style presentation. So, a lot of people who are listening might be thinking, “Oh, I’m never going to give a TED Talk.” But, actually, you might because it’s a format that’s becoming more and more popular and used in more and more settings.

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

Christine Clapp
Our favorite tool is our outline tool, the sandwich structure outline I think is a really great plug-and-play methodology that anyone at any point in their career can use to make their presentation more cohesive, more powerful, more well-structured, and to support that dynamic style of delivery that will keep your audience engaged.

Pete Mockaitis
And I also want to get your take, when it come to favorites, is there a habit that you maintain that helps you be more effective?

Christine Clapp
I am a runner. I’ve been running since, so, about 15 years now. I started when I was 25. I used to work on Capitol Hill, and some of my officemates said, “Hey, why don’t you run on our office’s Cherry Blossom 10-miler Team?” And I signed up, and I never thought I could do a 10-miler. And I started training in January where I ran one minute, walked one minute. And by the time April came around, I ran this 10-mile race. Then I continued running with these same friends, and they said, “Well, if you could run 10 miles, you can run 26.2.” And I thought, “Oh, whatever.”

So, I kept running with them and, sure enough, I got to the 18-mile run, I thought, “Oh, I don’t want to sign up for Marine Corps,” and they said, “You did 95% of the training. We have one more long run, do it.” So, I did, so I have been a long-distance runner. I’ve ran 10 marathons. I don’t run the long distances anymore because I have an eight-year old and an 11-year old, so I spend my Saturdays at flag football and soccer, and that’s what I choose to do with that time, but I still do run three or four times a week for a couple of miles, three, four, five.

And I think it’s just a great way to decompress and to deal with if you have a big presentation. For me, it helps me get rid of that nervous energy, helps ground me, and I think helps keep me healthy and sane. And, for me, that’s, I think, one of the reasons why. It seems weird, running shouldn’t help you do more, but I feel it helps ground me so that I am able to produce more and do more as a professional. So, whatever that outlet is for you, find it.

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

Christine Clapp
I think one of the secrets of public speaking that our clients have an aha moment with is that it’s not about you, it’s about the audience, and that comes straight from Aristotle. When we go into public speaking situations, the reason why people are nervous is because they’re thinking, “I’m going to do this wrong. I am going to be judged for this or that, or the slide is wrong, or I’ll forget.” It’s all about how they perceive the audience reacting to them, “Me, me, me, me, me.”

But the speech isn’t about you. The speech is about doing something for your audience. And if you can keep that in mind, that it’s about helping them, it doesn’t mean you have to be perfect. It takes the stress away from being perfect because even Carmine Gallo or Nancy Duarte, they’re wonderful speakers and they have so much to give, but their speeches aren’t technically perfect. They’ll have a few junk words, or their gestures might be lacking here or there, but that doesn’t matter because they are giving you something really valuable in terms of information. So, it’s not about being technically perfect. It’s not about you. It’s about giving something and focusing on your audience.

The other thing is that when I started doing this work 11 years ago, I started training and coaching, people didn’t have iPhones, people didn’t have Wi-Fi, people didn’t have laptops in the office. And giving a presentation, if people came to your conference and were listening to you, or in the meeting for your update, they were your hostages, they had nothing else to do. But, now, you not only have to be engaging them from daydreaming, you have to be better than the Worldwide Web and every email that they have in their inbox.

So, I think that the bar has gone up in terms of how much you need to engage your audience and think about them and what they need, and it’s reduced even further the amount that people pay attention to. No one has ever been critical, but now the speaker is almost irrelevant because we have so much other stuff going on when we’re listening. So, the real challenge of speakers is not being judged, but it’s about thinking about the audience and trying to get them to stop playing with their dang phones and laptops while you’re presenting.

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

Christine Clapp
The two places where people can learn more about us are SpokenWithAuthority.com and also PresentingAtWork.com is the book. I’m also on Twitter and LinkedIn. If you look for Christine Clapp, you will find me if you’re interested in connecting on one of those platforms and staying in conversation about presentation skills and public speaking.

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

Christine Clapp
My goal to you is to think about a big win that you could have in a year. So, I told you the story at the beginning of this interview about how it took me one year to go from being a zero in 12-debater to going to nationals in my debate. And while I don’t expect many of your listeners will be going to nationals, my question or my challenge to each one of them is to say, for you and where you are in your career today, what is nationals for you? What would a really big-deal presentation be for you in December 2020, by then?

So, think big and then start thinking about what you need to start doing in January, in February, in March, in April to get yourself ready for that speaking role. And if there’s any way my team and I can support along that journey, by all means, please let us know. We’d love to help.

Pete Mockaitis
Christine, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for bringing the goods, and keep up the great work.

Christine Clapp
Thank you so much.

505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nancy:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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