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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Erica

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

477: Speaking Confidently and Effectively with Diane DiResta

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Diane:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Diane DiResta Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Oh, big difference.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diane DiResta
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

445: How to Make Your Charts Awesome with Stephanie Evergreen

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Stephanie Evergreen says: "When we ask people to fix graphs... what we have to do first is understand our point."

Stephanie Evergreen discusses the importance of effective data visualization and shares tips and tricks for creating charts that best communicate data findings.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How charts can transform culture
  2. How to make use of tools you already have to make great visuals
  3. How to determine the most appropriate chart for your data

About Stephanie

Dr. Stephanie Evergreen is an internationally-recognized data visualization and design expert. She has trained future data nerds worldwide through keynote presentations and workshops, for clients including Mastercard, Adobe, Verizon, Head Start, American Institutes for Research, Rockefeller Foundation, Brookings Institute, and the United Nations. She writes a popular blog on data presentation at StephanieEvergreen.com. Her two books on designing high-impact graphs, slideshows, and reports both hit #1 on Amazon bestseller lists weeks before they were even released. This Spring Dr. Evergreen is publishing the second edition of one of those bestsellers and a brand new sketchbook with templates for making infographics and dashboards.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stephanie Evergreen Interview Transcript

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

Stephanie Evergreen
It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your good stuff. I think we’re going to get real dorky with this one, with the charts, and the graphs, and data. But I want to go back in time first to your first job, which I understand is at McDonald’s, and you were actually a vegetarian at the same time. How did that go?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. Well, you know, as teenagers do, I think you just get whatever job you can because you’re desperate for money. So, McDonald’s was close by my house and it seemed like a good idea. But, yeah, I was vegetarian and I thought I would be running the cash register or something, but they put me in the kitchen, I think, because they could sense I could handle a lot of pressure. That’s my guess.

But it was just the worst place to be. You know, cooking burgers all day. So, I will say I ate a lot of french fries because that was vegetarian, so that counted. But, yeah, I think a lot of us are there. We’re in jobs, and we just kind of do what we’re told even if it doesn’t totally line up with our ideal situation. So, I guess that’s why people come listen to you and your podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. Thank you. Well, I think that is one of the reasons, and I think that’s kind of the name of the game in terms of early career isn’t quite ideal, and then you learn and acquire skills, and tools, and you’re able to get better and better fits which are more rewarding as time goes by. Hopefully, that’s the trajectory.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, indeed. You know, it’s so funny, because when I think back to that time, I couldn’t even conceptualize that the thing I’m doing now was even a job.

Pete Mockaitis
Is something wrong with that?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, this was like, we’re talking 1995, and PowerPoint back then was, I think, when I went to college, even after that time when I was doing presentations, was transparencies. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
So, I didn’t even think about data, or graphs, or that I could make a whole career teaching people how to do this better. It’s just the technology wasn’t even there for us to dream of it yet.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, it’s so funny when you talked about the transparencies. I remember at Bain we would hear the war stories from the partners, it’s like, “Back in my day, when I was a consultant, we had to spend our time measuring transparencies with a ruler, or cutting them out with an X-ACTO knife, and then putting them all together.” We’re like, “Wow, that is wild.” I just figured you’d use fewer slides but, no, you just spend forever making them.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it was little rough and tumbles. Technology has helped us but, in some ways, I think we’re still probably putting in just as much labor to get our stuff looking great, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. Well, so let’s hear about your book here, Effective Data Visualization: The Right Chart for the Right Data. What’s the scoop here?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, yeah, so the big idea is that we can tell better, more useful data stories if we just learn a little bit about the chart choices that are out there today, and when to use them, and that’s it’s totally doable to make those awesome charts right inside Excel. And it’s really focused on that because I think that people need to know how to be the masters of the tools they already own, and that great visuals don’t necessarily require a graphic designer or someone who knows how to code.

Most of my readers, most of my clients, especially in that Fortune 500 arena, are working at their tight deadlines where they’ve got to turn on slide decks really fast for these decision-making meetings, and they need to know how to just use the tools that they’ve already got in front of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, you’re making them in Excel, not PowerPoint.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, all of Excel is baked right into PowerPoint so it’s kind of the same thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I hear you there. So, then, maybe we won’t dork out on PowerPoint versus Keynote versus Prezi versus think-cell versus Mekko Graphics versus Illustrator. But if you have a one-minute commentary we can obtain.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I do work a lot in slide show arenas as well, and I’m not even familiar with all those. I think you know more about those topics than I do. But the biggest strength of whatever software you choose is that you have to be able to collaborate with other people on it. So, that means they also need to own it, first of all, and that poses some limitations because not all these softwares are distributed as widely as like maybe PowerPoint is. And people need to be able to edit things in it like charts.

That’s always been one of my frustrations with Illustrator. It’s that it’s a picture file. So, you put in a slide, and if anybody needs to like adjust one number or a decimal point to do something, you have to go back and ask somebody to remake it. So, not all software can be editable and widely-distributed, so that’s why I tend to favor the Microsoft stuff because people have it, and we just need to know what to do with it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Fair enough. So, now, this book is your second edition. Can you tell us, did you learn any kind of hard lessons as you were interacting with the marketplace about what’s tricky, confusing, missing, that kind of showed up in the second edition?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I’ll say three things. So, first of all, the first one was printed in two colors. So, like a spot color of blue, and then black and white. And even though you’d be looking at the same screenshot in PowerPoint that you’d be seeing in front of you on your screen, it’s just harder to see it if it isn’t in color. So, this time around, everything is in full color. That’s a huge difference.

People were asking more questions about interactivity, so there’s a whole chapter in there on how to build interactive dashboards in Excel. Dashboards are, I think, one of the bigger trends that’s been coming out in the business world lately. Everybody wants their sexy dashboards, so we put together some tools on that. And I’m including a couple of new graph types that I think, since the first edition, people have been more exposed to them and so they understand them better, and they’re getting more popular.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, which are these?

Stephanie Evergreen
One of them would be the waterfall chart. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay, yes. So, it was pioneered, at least legend goes, that it was invented at McKinsey, and they were using it with all of their consulting groups to show where the change over time actually broke down. Like, where increases and decreases occurred. And I think for people who were not looking at it in a business context, they don’t easily wrap their brains around what they’re seeing.

But we’ve been seeing them more and more commonly, like in the newspaper. I saw one that was trying to explain Brexit. So, the more that we see them and the more that we’re exposed to them, I think people outside of very specific corporate financial settings are able to understand them. So, I included that sort of thing this time around.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you know, it’s really funny. I’m thinking back to my Bain days. We’re talking about charts here. I remember I thought the Rolls Royce of charts, at least as far as we were concerned, and like the grand daddy of them, was the Marimekko. And most don’t even know what that is. It’s like a rectangular sort of like a pie chart, except you’re describing proportions on two dimensions. So, we might see the proportion of the engine market for aircraft versus motorcycles versus cars versus trucks, and then, within each of those, the proportion that each competitor has.

I remember at one point there was a client who just refused to many parts of those. And there was a big debate in our team, like one of them said, “It’s the best way to show it. But they hate it. We can’t do it.” So, yeah, emotions can run high.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and people they really feel strongly about the things that they’ve been used to seeing for a long time. So, there is a fine line between where do we push what’s actually best practice versus respect where people are at. And it is, it can be hard to know. You kind of got to feel it out a little bit. And that’s why I think we have to have lots of choices so that we don’t just always think that there is one option.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. So, you’ve also got a “Data Visualization Sketchbook” that’s accompanying this. And what do we see in a sketchbook?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, it’s kind of the opposite of making graphs in Excel. It’s encouraging us to turn off our computers. So, the sketchbook is full of templates so that you can use pencil in the sketchbook and actually draw stuff out. And the purpose here is actually to let us think. Because I think what happens a lot of the times is that we just go straight to PowerPoint, or we go straight to whatever software we’re using, it doesn’t even really matter, and we just start clicking buttons. Like, “Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart. Okay, maybe I’ll try this chart.”

And we’re just heading straight to the button, clicking before we’ve even really thought about what we need to do, or show, or the big picture of the whole presentation. So, what we see when we look at the research around sketching is that when we take out all the distracting like menus and buttons and fun things that we can click, and we just let ourselves have some empty space, that’s when our working memory actually does processing, and it lets us think.

So, the sketchbook is like your excuse to get out of the office and go draw for a while. You’re going to come back with so many better ideas than you would have if you would’ve just stared at your computer screen.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. And I remember we used to sort of sketch them out roughly on Post-it Notes and then re-arrange the Post-it Notes, they’re nice like big rectangular ones, and say, “Oh, no, I don’t want this type or with that type.” And it was fun. It made you feel a little bit like an artist, you know, who’s designing something, as opposed to a computer cog.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, exactly. Well, and I always say you don’t have to be a good artist. You just have to know what that little blob represents later when you’re back at your computer. So, the sketchbook has templates, it’s got graph paper in it and dot grid paper, which is just fun. There are dashboard templates in like several varieties. There are varieties of handout templates, we’ve got a slide guide in there, and a report structure in case you’re doing like those big long report pages.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, so we’re to get into the ins and outs of all kinds of stuff here but maybe you could frame up the why for us. So, yeah, beyond you and I just being dorks for cool charts. What’s really the value or the impact on an organization when it comes to having the right chart for the right data versus maybe a suboptimal chart for the given data? What does that result in?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I know it seems so minor. Like, let’s learn how to push this button inside PowerPoint. But the thing we get out of those minor little details is culture change, and the way that organizations operate, and how people inside those organizations talk to each other, and all of that affects bottom line.

Like, I’m sure that you’ve experienced this many times, probably your listeners as well. I was just on the phone with a client this week who told me that the CEO of his company was getting frustrated by the bad presentations that they saw because he knew that they were missing opportunities to move good ideas forward. Like, it was getting lost in all the noise that was happening in these bad slides and the cluttery graphs. They’re making the point kind of hard to see.

The CEO said that they were in meetings that were taking like five times too long. They never evhad time to get to the gist because they didn’t even make it that far down the agenda. It’s such a waste of the precious time we get with people to confuse them and to head them off in the wrong direction when we could just be making the decisions that we need to make in getting to market faster.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. That’s good. Well, so then I was just going to ask, you know, when can visualization be harmful or counterproductive? And it sounds like that’s it right there. It’s like, “You’ve made a big, freaking complex and intricate and confusing chart that we’re all just sort of squinting, and leaning forward, and scratching our heads in a meeting, and our time is getting consumed by it.” But are there other times you’d recommend, “Hey, don’t even start making a chart. Just be chartless and you’ll be better off”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes. Oh, my gosh, there are so many times I think we’ll just be better off. First of all, if there’s not an obvious point to be made, don’t make a chart because people are going to look at the chart, that’s how our brains are built, we’re built to look at pictures. So, if we show people a bunch of pictures that don’t have any kind of obvious point, that’s how we get to the confusion, right? So, unless there’s actually a story, like a headline, a takeaway idea that you’re presenting, that that chart supports, just don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, I’m with you. Very good. All right. So, that’s your first point, is to have a point.

Stephanie Evergreen
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got something that we’re trying to say here as opposed to, “Hey, what the heck? I can just push this button and it has more colors than the other way.” So, very good. Well, then tell us what makes the difference between a good and a bad chart? What are sorts of like the top mistakes you see over and over again that need to be stopped?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I think that the biggest mistake people have is they jump straight to what’s the best chart type. And this happens to me all the time. I see it every single day because people will try to pick my brain all the time. It’s kind of like asking for some free consulting, right? So, people will approach me, and be like, “So, Stephanie, can I pick your brain?” And I’m like, “Oh, this is like I could bill for this, but go ahead.” And they’ll say something totally random, like, “My boss wants me to show our four different income revenues over the last eight quarters across our six departments. What’s the best chart type?” And I’m like, “Pfft, I don’t know.”

And everybody wants to, they want to run to what’s the best chart type. And when we ask people to fix graphs, they focus on chart type, when what we have to do first is understand our point. And that’s hard because it means you’ve got to know what you’re talking about. And people don’t always know it that well, or they are afraid to say their point.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, because they’re going to offend somebody. If I say, “This division has been shrinking while all the others have been growing.” And the guy who runs that division is in the room, and I single that out, it’s like, “You’re a jerk. He’s got it in for him. And now he’s my sworn nemesis.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it’s true. So, back to when can data visualization be harmful, well, this is definitely one of those times when you’re telling people truths that they really don’t want to hear. It’s hard. So, I think we’ve got to wordsmith our points really carefully because I know that it can be political. I’ve got plenty of people who tell me, “We just cannot say things that straightforward around here. We kind of dance around it a little bit.” So, yeah. But I’ve also seen people who have intentionally, perhaps, shown stuff that looked cluttery or confusing so that they were hiding the points that they should’ve been showing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, you know, I have a flashback all of a sudden, you triggered something. I remember we were working for a client who built exhibits for like tradeshows, so big, hunk, and cool-looking things that you pass by like at the consumer electronic show or something. And so, they were not doing super well. And one of their people made a slide that graphed the growth rate of the industry over time, and then graph-pointed downward, so it’s like, “As you can see, this is a bad industry right now.”

But that was very misleading because the numbers were all positive. It’s still growing. It’s just growing more slowly now than it was, so you should also be growing. And then we sort of had to counter that point. And, sure enough, it resulted in some poor decisions because of like, “Hey, what can we do? It’s bad economy, bad market. Our hands are tied,” as opposed to, “No, step it up and get after it because there’s opportunity that we’re not snagging here.”

Stephanie Evergreen
You said so many interesting things in here. So, first of all, in that last piece that you just said, it’s really in how we frame the takeaway. The takeaway could be, “Things are really dropping.” Or the takeaway could be, “We have an opportunity here.” So, it’s really in how you frame it. And I think we if don’t take that opportunity to frame the story and to frame the takeaway, people will run off in all kinds of different directions. And that’s the last thing we want them to do.

The other thing that was interesting about what you brought up is that what we see in the research is that people, especially if they’re not like the total nerds on the data topic, well, they just see big picture. So, they would just see this line going down, and they’re like, “Oh, dear,” and they wouldn’t be thinking as carefully about it as you were, where you’re like, “Well, you know, like it’s just the rate of change here, really, this is what we should be talking about.” And they don’t look at things like the scale that was used and stuff like that. So, I do think that it’s easy for people to manipulate data and have it cast a certain story just by small formatting tweaks that most people are likely to miss.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I’ve got a flashback here. I remember once we were in a meeting and someone had, talk about the formatting and the axes, it’s like someone had done the little thing where we jumped from zero to like 300 on the Y-axis. And then in mid-meeting the partner stopped the guy who was presenting on our team, and he said, “What is this? What is this Business Week-style garbage doing here?” He’s like, “I don’t ever want to see that again.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Wow.

Pete Mockaitis
He’s like, “That is misleading and I’ll have no part of it.” It was so intense.

Stephanie Evergreen
And I love that he threw Business Week under the bus in that one. That’s hilarious.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t actually know if Business Week does that a lot.

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know either. That’s funny. And we just saw like this is making the rounds very recently on Twitter, a climate scientist who posted a picture, you know there’s a pretty famous climate change graph called the hockey stick graph, Al Gore showed it in his famous Inconvenient Truth and it’s basically how global temperatures have stayed pretty flat, but in the past few years it’s like it just skyrocketed. And there was a climate scientist, really recently, who just redid the graph so that the Y-axis starts at zero. And when you do that, it’s a flat line, you don’t see any change whatsoever. And he’s like, “See, climate change is a hoax.”

So, it’s incredibly common and incredibly easy to manipulate the data to have it say whatever you want. So, I think that with all of this discussion, there is also this moral and ethical obligation that we have to the truth. And it’s difficult because everybody interprets the truth however it’s truthful to them. But that’s always going to be really tricky.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I don’t remember who said it, but I think they said, “Figures don’t lie, but liars figure.” Now, that’s well-said, and that’s true.

Stephanie Evergreen
I like that.

Pete Mockaitis
The numbers are accurately saying what they’re saying but you’ve chosen those ones, you chose to present them in that way for a particular agenda which could be helpful or hurtful. So, okay, so enough reminiscing and ranting.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, we see that in the research that people are convinced by charts. So, there is a study that was published, I’ll have to remember exactly what it was, where it was published, but it presented the exact same data to study subjects, it’s just that one had a chart. And the chart didn’t add any new information. It was just a visual of the stuff that was already in the narrative anyway. So, it was just the exact same narrative, just one had an additional repetitive picture. And people voted the one that had the picture as more trustworthy and believable, because we just were wired to like believe data.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s striking. Well, okay, so then let’s get back into making good charts. So, the first point is to have a point. Don’t jump to the, “Hey, what chart type do I need?” but rather, “What’s the story? What’s the point? What is the main thing I’m trying to convey here?” And then once you’re clear on that, what’s the next step?

Stephanie Evergreen
I think it’s to know your audience. And sometimes your point changes depending on the audience you’re talking to, to be honest with you, but I think you got to know what their prior level of knowledge is. Like, are they’d big old nerds with me, and I can just talk about my P values? Or is it going to be somebody who is like data smart but not necessarily a nerd? Or am I talking to the public who tends to be folks who are data-scared?

The way that we show our data to them and even the words we use in our point is going to change depending on which group we’re talking to. And I think also, partly, one of the questions there is, “How willing are they to even engage with me?” Like, am I fighting a hard battle here to get people to even look at me, or are they begging for me to show up and give them this data?

All those things are going to factor into the chart that you eventually choose. So, I think once you know your audience pretty well and the point that you need to make to them, then you can start thinking about the right chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. So, let’s say we’ve done that, we’ve got the point, we’ve got the audience, now how do we go about choosing the chart?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so I think that part of our determination there, and this is the way that the book is setup, is you have to know a little bit about the nature of your data, right? So, are you talking about survey responses here? Are we talking about parts of a whole? Are we trying to talk about how the trends over time? Once we know that sort of thing, then we can look at the chart choices that are available.

Even within some of those, once you think about maybe trends over time. There are lots of choices in there, and some are going to highlight certain angles of your story better than others do. So, we make our determinations there based on the point and the audience, and how much they’re able to read those graphs in the first place. Sometimes it’s a matter of how many datapoints we have to show that helps us determine what our graph type is going to be.

And then from there, the last step of the process, at least the way that I go about making graphs, is to sharpen up your point of it. And that usually requires having to strip out some of the clutter and some of noise that’s baked into our chart defaults. I’m talking about stuff like taking out check marks. And then really, really making your point obvious by using some color on the parts of the data that are matching your headline.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, so that’s great. And when it comes to these defaults, can you save new defaults?

Stephanie Evergreen
You can, yeah, at least in Excel. I’m not so sure about other graphing software that’s out there. But, yeah, you can. You can go through the process of making one amazing chart, and then make that your new default chart so that you don’t have to go through all of that elbow grease every single time.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And at Bain we used to use Mekko Graphics which I like because the default was just clean and sharp as opposed to a lot of times in Excel, PowerPoint, it’s like I’ve got all of these background lines engraved with things that just don’t need to go there. And because I was using it more than other software programs more often, it took me a while to figure out how make those go away. And I think I walked away thinking, “Excel sucks for making charts.” But you’re here to set me straight.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And we walk in the book through how to go about making those new templates so that you don’t have to go do all that cleanup work every single time. Because everybody is in this place where like, “My graphs have to be done tonight because my presentation is tomorrow.” And you just don’t have time to mess around with all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
Exactly.

Stephanie Evergreen
And that’s why, that is exactly why people would go to things like a specialty software like Mekko graphics. Is that what you said it was called?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because they might have some cleaner defaults. But the thing I like about Excel, I never really have understood if this is because Microsoft is so smart or so stupid, but you can hack Excel. It’s got some bad things built into the defaults but you can hack it and make it do things that it does not naturally do. Like, there are graph types that we introduced in the book that most people have probably never seen before that are so high-impact and powerful, but it’s just that we had to hack it from some existing graph types in Excel. And some of these other softwares that are out there for graphing won’t let you hack. It’s so user-friendly that you can’t get more out of it that you might want to get.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s very intriguing. Can you give us an example of a super high-impact chart type? It’s almost like the secret in and out menu or something about the graph there. So, things like high-impact chart and how do I secretly access it?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. So, I’m going to say that in 2019 the Rolls Royce of graph types is going to be a dumbbell dot plot, and I’ll tell you what this means. It looks like a tiny little Popeye dumbbell where it’s like two circles connected by a line. And the reason it’s so powerful is because we interpret dots so well. We’ve seen plenty of research on how human brains interpret different graph types, and position is the easiest graph type for human brains to read.

Meaning, like we’re really good at seeing a dot’s position on an axis, even better than we are reading a bar chart which would be length. We’re really good at noticing position. We just don’t have a lot of position built into our default graphs. So, dumbbell dot plots are even better because it’s two dots showing position, and then a stick between the two. And the stick emphasizes the distance between these two datapoints.

And so, if you’ve got stories that are about like the gap that occurred between these two things, or the disparity we’re seeing between these two things, or how much growth occurred between these two datapoints, the dumbbell dot plot is the Rolls Royce of graph types to show that. And I think everybody has those stories about gap, or growth, or disparity.

So, this graph type is so amazing, and I ended up having to recommend it to everybody I ever consult with. And you are like, “How would I make this in Excel?” But it’s really just a hack of a line graph with markers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. A line graph with markers, and you just sort of erase some things so that all that remains is your dumbbell.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you have to erase some things, you have to add some things. It’s remarkably easy that we’re talking like under two minutes of formatting to make your first one, and then that could be a template too.

Pete Mockaitis
And, Stephanie, are you aware that, at least on my computer when I do a Google image search for dumbbell dot plot, the top three results are StephanieEvergreen.com?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, I mean, I am a fan.

Pete Mockaitis
You are the dumbbell dot plot’s ambassador.

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, that’s great. I think I just came up with my next tattoo.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have tattoos?

Stephanie Evergreen
I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Are they charts?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, one was a bit data-driven actually. I counted some things in my life for a while, and then I had that tattooed. So, yeah, you know, I am a nerd.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. So, let’s see here. There’s so much good stuff. So, we talked through a little bit of what makes the difference, what’s the process. Would you say that there’s maybe like a quality control checklist you might recommend in terms of, “All right, after you’re done making your chart, here are the things you want to make sure you have done or not done”?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, I wrote a checklist. I think it has like 52 points on it. So, it’s not like just count them on our hand, but we broke out. I mean, I did my dissertation on this stuff so I was really down in the weeds of like what the research says about how charts can work best. And so, I broke that research out into 52 checkpoints, and it really is exactly what you’re saying.

Once your graph is finished, run it through these checkpoints, and make sure you’re hitting all the marks. And part of the checklist is about things like making sure you got the right chart type. Parts of it are about making sure you have a headline. But it also goes into stuff about like color, and the font sizes we should be using, and the order that we show the data and the graph, and how many decimal places we have to report to, and that sort of thing. So, we actually had a grad student who did her dissertation on this checklist.

Pete Mockaitis
On your checklist?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
And it worked out so well in her data that we have it turned it into an interactive website. I’ll send out the link. So, you just go the website, you upload an image of your graph, and it’ll walk you through all the checkpoints. Any place where you didn’t quite meet it, it will you a resource that shows you how to fix it.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. And so, if you’ve got 52, I’ve got apply a little bit of 80/20 Rule magic here. Could you share, are there a couple of them that you see all the time that are very destructive? So, perhaps the most critical boxes to be checked in this checklist.

Stephanie Evergreen
I think the one I see, in addition to not having a good point, I think the one that I see that’s the most harmful is probably not tuning into color blindness.

Pete Mockaitis
Not turning into color blindness.

Stephanie Evergreen
Tuning into, like paying attention to.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, because color blindness is part of meeting the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and it sounds like so like technical but it is. We are required to make sure our stuff is accessible to people. And color blindness is one of those disabilities that is sort of invisible so that you don’t really know if anybody in your audience is color blind.

But the red-green color blindness is the most common form, and one in 10 white men in the U.S. are red-green color blind, one in six Japanese men are red-green color blind. So, when we show people red and green who are color blind, they see those as two shades of brown. And I think the red-yellow-green stuff like color system is so prevalent in so many organizations, and it is absolutely not compliant. It is absolutely not color blind-friendly, and it doesn’t work on black and white, and it doesn’t work for so many reasons but it’s so baked into our culture. That’s got to be the number one thing I see.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is striking. It seems like there’s a compelling headline for blog posters or something here, “How your charts are violating the law and you don’t even know it.”

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, you know what, it’s so true. Like, I have clients who come to me because they’ve been sued because the stuff that was on their website was not compliant.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow.

Stephanie Evergreen
And we are seeing that like more and more. There is a grocery store chain, was it Piggly Wiggly, or one of those down South, was sued. I think even Beyoncé was sued recently because her website wasn’t compliant. So, if it can happen to Beyoncé, it can happen to any of us.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good truism for life.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, this is the kind of only area where if it can happen to Beyoncé it can happen to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy. Well, so a few more things I want to make sure we tick through.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to slide headlines, it sounds like we’re on the same page with this, but I’ll let you say it. What should we do with slide headlines?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, it just helps you with your point.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, instead of saying, “Sales over time,” it should say what about the sales over time?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sales are going up over time.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Stephanie Evergreen
“Sales are going down over time.” “Sales has stayed the same over time.” “Sales have stayed the same and we need to do something that.” So, it can get a bit heavy-handed if you want it to. It doesn’t have to. It can simply be descriptive. It just needs to be an insight so that people know why the heck we’re looking at this thing, and what you want them to know.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And pie charts, why are they bad?

Stephanie Evergreen
Well, they don’t have to be bad. I’ve seen some pretty good ones, but I think the issue is when we try to cram a hundred datapoints, a hundred little slices into the pie. People can’t really read angle very well. Like I how I said earlier, position is great, length is okay, angle is bad. We’re not good at reading angles. If you only got a couple of slices in the pie, it’s going to be fine. But if you try to put a bunch more in there then we’re in some trouble.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’d recommend a stack bar chart instead?

Stephanie Evergreen
Sure, or simply a bar. I think pie charts, people like them because it shows that we’re talking about a 100% of the data, that the data totaled to 100. I’m not sure the fact that data totaled to a hundred is actually the lead story we really need to be trotting out. So, I’m okay with just turning it into a bar chart.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, very good. And when it comes to, hey, you’ve got a boatload of texts, how do we visualize that? I guess you got a word cloud, but any tips for that or can we do any better?

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, so that’s one of the biggest changes in the second edition of the book. We had the beginnings of a quality in the chapter in the first edition and we scrapped it almost entirely, and rewrote it. There were like 15, 16 chart types in there for showing qualitative data. Word clouds are like at the bottom of the list. there are so many better ways to do it. Word cloud are a step up from just, “Let me give you a bunch of quotes,” because nobody can really read a bunch of quotes like that.

But there are so many cool options that are out there now, especially like some that keep things more purely qualitative and some that lately quantify and turn it into some numbers. There’s just a huge spectrum of choices. In fact, this book is the biggest compendium of qualitative visualization options that we’ve ever seen. So, we’re really excited to get this out into people’s hands.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, by “we” you mean mankind as a whole.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yes, humankind. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. Even more in this. Well, very cool. All right. So, Stephanie, tell me, any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stephanie Evergreen
I feel like I should say something here because you give me the opportunity to. So, I will say this, okay, one final thought on understanding your audience. This is my secret. Figure out what their burning questions are. Figure out what keeps this group up at night. Like, what are they worried about? Because then you come into your presentation with the answers to the things that keep them up at night. That’s how you get a promotion. Yeah, so this is how you have to structure everything that you do is to just answer your audience’s burning questions.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I don’t know that I have a quote as much as I have is some inspiration. So, is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Stephanie Evergreen
Okay. When I was doing the research for my sketchbook, I was looking at the old artists, Da Vinci, Picasso, Van Gogh, and they all drew. They sketched. Because when you sketch, you work out issues you don’t want to have to work out on expensive canvas with expensive paint. So, you get your space to breathe, and think, and to study your subject really, really well, and play around with ideas so that when you do have time in front of the canvass or in front of your dashboard software, your presentation software, it’s so efficient and fast and easy because you already have a plan in mind. So, yeah, that’s my inspiration. Let’s just do what Van Gogh did, except the not the cutting off the ear part.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
One of my favorite researchers is Richard Meyer. He’s got a book out, I believe, but also several published studies. He does a lot of like multimedia presentation study stuff, and all of his stuff has this little glimmer of humor to it that just makes me laugh. So, I’ll tell you about one. He had this study where he showed the audience like the typical death by bullet point. You know what I mean?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah. And at the end of the presentation, they gave the study subjects a survey on just like feelings, attitudes, stuff like that. And the audience was reporting mild to high levels of general annoyance with the speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Yeah, and they couldn’t put their finger on why because they’re like, “We’re design students,” so they weren’t like, “Oh, it’s ‘cause slides are so terrible.” They just left feeling like mild to high annoyance. And I feel like that’s the last thing we need to do. It’s already hard enough to get people to pay attention to us without annoying them, so let’s not add to it with bad slides.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good one. It explains maybe a real force behind annoyance, it would. And how about a favorite book?

Stephanie Evergreen
My current favorite book. I just finished one, it’s totally, well, probably unrelated to all the rest of this. But it was written by Cal Newport called Digital Minimalism and it’s about so related to this sketching stuff because it’s about how technology is interrupting our ability to think big. And he blames social media in particular because the whole thing was just a very fascinating read about how our minds are so filled with constant check-ins and updates from our aunts and second cousins that we lost our ability to think.

And it struck me because I think he’s got a lot of things he’s saying correct that are right in the book, but it struck me because I realized that everybody says their best ideas happen when they’re in the shower.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Stephanie Evergreen
Because that’s the one place you can’t take your phone. I was like, “Yeah, that’s when we think,” right, when we aren’t staring at something. So, anyway.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I’m going to say a tape measure. Believe it or not, I have to bust out my tape measure and measure things on my screen all the time. I want to make sure like everything is proportionate and accurate, and I will sometimes actually just get out my tape measure and make it happen.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. You know, there is a super genius at Nintendo who’s behind a lot of their hits like Zelda and Super Mario Brothers. I don’t remember his name. But that was one of his things because he would carry a tape measure with him everywhere he went, and ask people, “Hey, how long do you think this is?” which is like as he came, that’s what he did, and like, that’s pretty weird! But I think that’s connected to his genius so I’m going to give you that same credit there.

Stephanie Evergreen
Cool. I’ll take it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And how about a favorite habit?

Stephanie Evergreen
A favorite habit. I think my favorite habit will be going to the gym in the morning when I want to start my day, because I think all that fresh air and oxygen and endorphins just sets your brain up for smart thinking. Now, it doesn’t always help your hairstyle because then you’d have to shower and then go straight from there to like your work life. So, there are tradeoffs here, but I do think that the oxygen is helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and clients?

Stephanie Evergreen
You know, I think the thing that resonates with people the most is when someone complains that it seems like this slide is going to take a lot of work, and I’m like, “You know what? It’s your job.” Yeah, it’s going to take you a minute to put a good slide together, but also that’s what you’re paid to do. So, yeah, I’ll share lots of efficiency tips, but at the core, getting people to use our data for decisions is what we were hired to do.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
My website is going to be a great place, StephanieEvergreen.com.

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

Stephanie Evergreen
I would say find one baby step you can take at your office. It might be like, “All I can do is make a great title.” It might be, “I’m going to take that pie chart and recast it as something else.” It might be, “I’m going to go learn how to make a dumbbell dot plot.” And I do have instructions for that on my website. But I think that’s going to be my challenge. Go change one thing, and then like in another month change another. And then in like two years, you’ll have a whole revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Stephanie, this has been lots of fun, and I wish lots of luck with the books “Effective Data Visualization” and the sketchbook, and all your adventures.

Stephanie Evergreen
Thank you so much for having me.

413: How to Exude Credibility with Rob Jolles

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Rob Jolles says: "The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable."

Rob Jolles provides practical wisdom on how to come across as more believable.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The number one reason why people don’t believe you
  2. How method acting can lead you into peak presenting performance
  3. Why you should embrace your own dysfunctions

About Rob

Rob Jolles is a sought-after speaker who teaches, entertains, and inspires audiences worldwide. His live programs around the world have enabled him to amass a client list of Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Disney, GE, a dozen universities, and over 50 financial institutions. He is the best-selling author of six books, including his latest release, Why People Don’t Believe You…Building Credibility from the Inside Out.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Rob Jolles Lederman Interview Transcript

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

Rob Jolles
Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to dig in. I think you’ve got so much good stuff to share. Maybe you’ll be able to share it, if necessary, in a rapid format because you are a licensed auctioneer! How does one get licensed to be an auctioneer and tell us a tale or two of your auctioneering adventures?

Rob Jolles
Okay. Well, when you have a big mouth and you run it around for 30 years giving seminars, everybody assumes, “Hey, this guy can do anything on a stage.” But I want to tell you, in the State of Virginia, where I initially got licensed, it’s harder than it looks. It was 80 hours of certified instruction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Rob Jolles
To be allowed to take the three-and-a-half-hour exam. I had to study cattle and cars and horses and antiques. But really all I wanted, unfortunately there isn’t a license like this, all I wanted to do was be able to work charities. I felt like it was a good way of giving back, maybe using my skills for something really valuable.

That’s about nine and a half years ago. I took my courses. I got certified. I’ve been probably averaging an auction a month, maybe an auction every other month, but 95% for charities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s awesome. Then I guess if you’re doing it for charities, then you’re doing it for free. I’m wondering with all that education, what would an auctioneer be paid if he or she were doing a gig for a bankruptcy? Hey, we’ve got an auction. I’m the auctioneer. I’m well-trained and licensed and educated. What would that return in a gig?

Rob Jolles
Actually, it’s usually a percentage of profit there. For charity auctioneers, we’re not quite as fortunate. It’s a fraction of what I normally get paid. Actually, what I typically do with a charity is, I sort of get paid a little and then I never walk out the door with it. I just simply hand it back so that I can deduct from my taxes.
I want to stay true to the intent, which is there are certain things that we do in life that really have to pay the bills and keep the electric running and there are other times in life where we do things that are really just to help others.

When I speak at universities and things like that and they have a little honorarium, what’s the sense of me really taking that? I’m going to do something nice, let’s go all the way. That’s for charity. Now sometimes I’ll do a shopping center or I’ve done some universities. I’ll take a little something, but it’s a fraction of what I normally get.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Have you ever auctioned off anything crazy or strange or just noteworthy?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I’ll tell you the best thing I ever auctioned off. Believe it or not – and this is for anybody that’s ever thinking of putting an auction together, this is what you’re looking for. It’s not a yard sale.

When Letterman was still doing his show, we got two tickets to Letterman. Well, they’re free, but we got backstage passes and you can’t always do that. Then Marriot threw in a couple nights and we got two train tickets. When we packaged that altogether and particularly with that unique ability to get back stage, something you can’t really get on your own, sort of like Saturday Night Live tickets, that item went for a little over 30,000 dollars. It was fairly simple.

That and we also got one time I auctioned off tickets to the Academy Awards. Again, something you can’t normally get on your own. You’re not going to find it on Craigslist. Other than the limo, I think that was in the 30 – 35,000 dollar range. Those are the kind of things that really actually will excite an audience.

Pete Mockaitis
That is very clever. If there are any fundraisers in the house, there’s the trick. You get something you can’t get under normal circumstances. Then you package it together into a cool experience and there it is, the secret to a successful fundraising auction. Didn’t even know we were going to learn that today. Thank you.

But what I was planning on learning a bit about was some of the wisdom in your book, Why People Don’t Believe You. Great title. Tell us, what’s the big idea? Why don’t people believe you?

Rob Jolles
When you say big idea and I’m ready for you now because I actually thought, “What is the big idea? I better know that. It is my book.” I think the big idea is, there’s two of them. First of all, I’m pleased you like the title. It wasn’t my title, but most of us who write books, we’ll get everything but our title in there. The publisher typically knows more about titles than we do.

But the big idea in my original title was it’s not the words; it’s the tune. A lot of times, and I’m guilty of this spending 30 years of my career, of my life, running around the country teaching people what to say, what to say, what to say. We don’t really stop and say wait a minute. Let’s forget the words. How are we saying it? I’d say in a sense that’s part of the bigger picture of the book.
But to really drill down on your question, I think the biggest reason why people don’t believe us, as strange as this may sound, is we don’t believe us. Things in the book, I know they sound simple, but so are asking questions and listening, but who does that? It’s such a fundamental communication piece. The easiest way to be believed is to actually tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Rob Jolles
When you stop and think about that, do you have the best podcast out there? Well, from what I hear, it sure is, but you have to believe that. If it isn’t, you have to do everything you can to make it a great podcast, to put your heart and soul into it. If you go to bed at night and you truly believe that, you don’t have to worry about sounding authentic. Now you believe it and the tune will follow.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. Now, you’re getting me thinking here because we were talking just beforehand when I was stalking you and deciding whether or not to invite you. You passed. Nice job. You made reference to the greatest life insurance salesperson ever; Ben Feldman is his name, if anybody wants to take a look. I’m always intrigued by the greatest in the world.

I sort of listened to an interview with Ben Feldman. He doesn’t sound super engaging in the interview, but boy, does he believe in life insurance being just a powerful force for goodness for humanity. It’s clear that he believes that with a deep abiding passion, which is striking because I hadn’t thought of life insurance in that way before, but there you have that. The best in the world had that at a really high level.

Rob Jolles
Let’s put a cherry on that sundae because yup, he completely dominated the insurance industry for decades and I mean dominated from the sprawling metropolis of East Liverpool, Ohio. But how about this that we add to that story, the fact is he was the greatest that ever lived by the numbers. He spoke with a lisp. He was actually a fairly quiet guy.

He didn’t have any of the attributes that we naturally associate with the greatest salesperson, that Glengarry Glen Ross kind of Alex Baldwin character. He was the complete opposite. I guess when you hear that, whoever’s listening just remember that he was true to his own unique style. You can’t imitate this guy. The best imitation you do is of yourself. Not only did he believe in his product, he was true to his style. He didn’t emulate anyone but himself. That’s what made him really successful.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, you’re telling the truth, you’re believing it deep down. If you’re not yet believing it, you’re doing all you can to get there with believing it in terms of improving the actual kind of facts of the situation. Then when it comes to the tune, how do we sing a tune that’s more appealing?

Rob Jolles
That’s interesting you say sing because as I was working through the manuscript I was actually at one point trying to create a musical score in a sense of the tune, but my musical score had places where we would pause, had places where we would change our pitch, had places where we would change our pace. Actually all found in music if you think about it.

Unfortunately, although I’ll work on pitch and pace and pause with people, the problem is every question you just asked me right now, I can’t go, “Okay, hang on one second. Let me figure out where my pitch goes up and let me figure out where I’m going to slow this down and where I’m going to speed it up.”

We do focus on pitch, pace, and pause, which to me are critical pieces. But the key is to get that authentic voice to do it without having to sort of stop and micromanage where those pieces are. I don’t know if when you’re talking to me, for instance, you’re gesturing with your hands, but imagine if we stopped and I said, “Point here. Put your hand up over there.” We want that to kind of become as natural as we can.

I think one of the secret sauces, if you will, of the book is actually thinking more like a method actor. What if we took ourselves and actually placed ourselves in the moment. I don’t mean just in the moment. I mean even the point we were just talking about, truly believing.

Well, maybe we’re getting beat up a little bit out there right now. Maybe our product is – it’s just been tough for us but weren’t there times in our life where everything we touched sort of worked out well, where we knew the next time we picked up the phone or knocked on a door, it was going to go well. The other six did.

Why can’t we as a method actor take ourselves to that moment? Are you telling me that when we knock on the door this time, we’re going to be less effective with that in our mind? That’s where that pitch, pace, and pause sometimes can come more naturally.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. You’re saying let’s not put our focus on “Okay, at this point in my second sentence, I’m going to drop my pitch low,” and sort of plan that out in great detail, but rather to get in the zone associated with when you were rocking, rolling, and believing and nailing it and high performing, so just sort of method acting into that spot and these things will sort of naturally follow well.

Could you maybe bring this all together in an example or a case study of someone whose credibility wasn’t so hot and then they did some things and they saw it really get hot again?

Rob Jolles
Sure. Actually, this whole book really began with me in a bad mood in a bad evening being asked to speak to a group called the Career Network Ministry, a group that just helps people in career transition. I don’t necessarily like to speak free a whole lot, but I bumbled my way in and figured I’ll talk to a dozen people and get this over with. There 250 to 300 people in the room. I’ve been volunteering for six years ever since. It was such a moving experience.

But one of the things I noticed in that room – and that was my petri dish, that’s where this started – was I noticed words. We were working on resumes – words. We were working on elevator pitches – words. We were working on LinkedIn sites – words. We were working on the words and nobody was focusing on the tune.

To answer your question, I actually stated about five and a half years ago I put together my first group of a dozen people. To get in this program, two days, you had to be unemployed a minimum of two years. Half my room was unemployed for over five years. That’s chronic unemployment.

We put on a two-day program. I bumbled and fumbled my way through it, but we were hitting on something because 10 of the 12 people were hired within three months. That’s when I realized, okay, we’ve got something.

But I’m telling you, going back on some of the questions you asked, I wasn’t working on the words in there. I took that elevator pitch – there’s some value in those – but I put it in the corner and we worked on their character. We worked on who they were, what they were, taking them through those moments of success and man, the hands and the words, and the pitch, and the pace, it followed.

But there’s an answer to your question. It was 10 for 12 coming out of the gate. That’s when I knew, I think we maybe even have a book here, but I’ve got to keep digging into this.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s fascinating. Do tell, what are some of the most impactful transformational exercises or practices that make that come alive?

Rob Jolles
Wow, that’s a good question. One of them we were talking about is whenever I ask them anything, I really try and trim people down to what I call a communication shot clock. Look, there’s a shot clock in basketball. It keeps the game moving. There’s a shot clock in football, actually. It keeps the game moving. There may very well be a shot clock in baseball, they’re going to try it in preseason, to keep the game moving.

We are in a society now where books are getting smaller and people just don’t have that bandwidth to stay with us. Even our videos are four to six minutes in length. One of the things as an example was, stop talking to them, getting them up to speak, getting them into character, and working on their shot clock, meaning, trimming those questions down and saying, “Rather than giving me your three best points. Give me your best point. If I want more, I’ll ask for it.”

It was an example of really trying to get them a little bit quicker, a little bit lighter on their feet. As an example, that was one technique that we used.

Pete Mockaitis
Then you said with the shot clock, is there an optimal do you recommend time that you would put on the shot clock in terms of number of seconds that you would speak before being quiet?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I actually have a number and I’m going to give it to you, but please understand I’m answering your question, so it’s sort of like when I teach people to sell and I’m saying you’ve got to ask second and third level questions. The hand will go up and say, “Exactly how many?” It’s like, “Well, that’s going to really depend on the personality of the client, etcetera.”

But I really actually like 45 seconds. I think it’s a great number. If I go a minute and ten, that’s okay. If we go shorter, that’s okay too. A lot of the times if I’m dealing with a more social environment, more social client, I’ve kind of got the green light to go a little bit longer. If I’m dealing with a more dominant client, I’m probably going to trim back. There’s other variables.

But I love the conversation we’re having because I get frustrated when people are bobbing and weaving, saying, “But …” I think 45 seconds is a good target, but read your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yes. That is a helpful benchmark because I think it’s possible that you can under speak as well. I’m just thinking about this. I said, “Hey, tell us about you becoming a licensed auctioneer.” It’s like, “I had 80 hours of instruction and then passed a three-hour exam.” It’s like, “Okay, well, Rob, this is really interesting.”

Rob Jolles
… on the show. You’re really talented.

Pete Mockaitis
I think that makes good sense in terms of it’s a very rough ballpark zone, but if you’re five seconds, it’s like, “Okay, do you hate me? What’s going on here?” It’s hard to form a connection. If you’re too long, it’s like, “Okay, I already sort of got the message I was after way earlier and ready to move on to something else.” I appreciate that. That’s one principle is the communication shot clock. What are some of the other practices or exercises that are really transformational here?

Rob Jolles
Well, I’m going to give you a couple more, but I want to give you a big picture here because if you study my career, I’m actually going at a different angle right now. I got my hardcore training with Xerox. You didn’t tie your shoe without a process of some sort at Xerox. But when you have a process, you have a way of measuring what you’re doing. When you can measure it, you can fix it. Boy, am I a repeatable, predictable process person.

Yet, the topic that we’re in, I’ve sort of had to look at the mirror and go it’s not all process-oriented. I sort of reframed it in my mind and I said it’s more about percentages, meaning. It’s sort of like when we eat, okay? “I’m a healthy person.” “Good. Well, what do you do?” “Well, I no longer put sugar in my coffee, just Stevia.” “That’s it?” “Yeah, that’s it.”

Well, okay. If you really do that all the time and you’re a big coffee drinker, I guess that’s about a one percent – two percent play. I don’t know if you’re healthier yet, but I guess it beats the alternative. But you look at healthy people’s example and they’re doing 15 – 20 things, exercise, this, that. Together, they create a formidable percentage.

What we’re talking about right now is really percentage plays. A communication shot clock gives us a couple of percentage plays. Truly believing in yourselves gives us percentage points. Taking ourselves mentally to a place where we’re successful gives up percentage points. I’m going to give you percentage points as opposed to process. Like I said, I’m almost arguing with me right now because I’m so bred into process, but we’re into a topic that is more percentage than process.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say percentage, you’re sort of using this as a label of a different means of thinking about approaches such that a process seems to apply if you do A, B, C, D, E, F, you’ll arrive at this end result, whereas percentage says, “Of the result you’re after, one thing can account for 5% of getting to the result and another thing can account for 10% of the thing.” Thusly, you’re kind of suggesting that an A, B, C, D, E process ain’t going to get you 100% of the way to where you want to be.

Rob Jolles
Exactly. Let me give you a percentage move as an example. Thank you because that’s exactly what I’m saying, by the way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh cool.

Rob Jolles
A percentage move for me, a lot of people, for instance, when they’re struggling to be believed and they’re, “Okay, I’m going to believe in myself, this and that, but this company, they’re looking at four other people. One of them, I don’t know, they may have a better relationship.” Well, they might. They might not.

I love really actually focusing the brain on playing the course and not the opponent. I’m going to get percentage pieces out of this because by that I mean if you watch actually a good golfer it’s shocking. They never look at the scoreboard. For three days, they don’t look at the scoreboard. They don’t care.

They’ll look in the final two holes, three holes because they may have to change their strategy, but how in the world do you play a competitive event without looking around at your opponent? The answer is well, what value does looking at the opponent really have? If you sink a 40-foot putt, good for you. Me focusing on that not only doesn’t change a thing, it removes the focus from my putt. It removes the focus from what I’m doing.

I think, as an example, we spend too much time worrying about things we can’t control. Honestly, if I thought worrying about it would move the dial one percentage point, I would be the most competitive worrier you ever met, but it actually takes away. It doesn’t add. Things like playing, the course, not the opponent, things like accepting your limp.

You started the conversation about Ben Feldman. Again, look him up folks. Like I said, appearance-wise, he wasn’t necessarily that natural salesperson look or sound, but in a sense he had his own limp. We all walk with a limp. Do you know how many people are held back from their own ability to convince others because of their limp?

I lost my hair, I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I had to accept it. It’s one of my limps. But what I found is, the moment it stopped being important to me, it was never really important to anybody else. It was me that was focused and obsessed. If we take that example and look at people that just have certain issues, maybe they don’t have that natural punch in their voice, it’s okay. Don’t be somebody you’re not. Just move it from a two to a four, that’s all I’m asking.

But if we accept our limp, if we play that course.
We don’t have to misuse our imagination. That lovely quote I actually have by my coffee bar, “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” It’s a wonderful quote. If we start removing those pieces, each thing I’m talking about is getting us a percent here and three percent here and two percent there. I can give you five more, but I think you’re getting the drift of it.

Pete Mockaitis
I am, I think, getting the drift of it. I imagine you’ve given me the biggest percentages already upfront. Is that fair to say?

Rob Jolles
It depends on the mood that I’m in. It actually depends on the person because when you’re communicating, for instance, if you just pay attention to your transitions – so many people will micromanage the body of whatever they’re communicating about, particularly presenters. If they actually micromanage the transitions and stuck their landing in the end and spent 90% of their time on the opening, they would increase their credibility.

Again, because it’s percentage plays, each percentage move will fit a different customer a different way, but yeah, I’m not wasting your time. I’m giving you ones that I think really resonate and I see get a big bang for the buck for most of the people that I’m working with.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh great. Now, I just want to make sure I got the transitions point clear. You’re just saying if you’re doing a presentation or a speech, you want to give some extra attention to how you’re transitioning from one section to another instead of fumbling or being awkward during those moments?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I did chuck that one in from left field, didn’t I? Absolutely. I train a lot of speakers. The irony is usually that the core of most presentations have oftentimes, particularly for corporate America, but oftentimes they’ve gone through a legal read. We can’t really change them all that much.

What makes a great communicator and an average communicator? It’s not the body of the message. It’s them coming out of the gate with an interesting story and idea, really addressing what’s in it for the client. Thinking out the beginning.

But to get right at what you just asked, the transitions, yeah, we probably have three or four major points. If I really think those out – I’m not a guy who believes in scripts – but if I actually write them out, maybe back them down to a Word outline, if I spend my time working on how I’m going from Point A to Point B and sewing that body together, as I said, coming out of the gate strong and sticking my landing, closing strongly, yeah, I’ll probably give one of the best presentations I’ve ever given. But it has very little to do with memorizing the body. That’s not where success lies.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting because the big chunks one, they may be unmovable because of legal review, two, you probably remember them just because one thing leads to another. “This is the story about how I formed an accountability group in college.” Hey, that’s one chunk and I know it. We’ll go and make it happen. But what I don’t know so much is how I’m going to move from maybe that piece to how friendship is important.

Rob Jolles
By the way, that’s the way most people do it. They’ll go … “Friendship is important,” but when they transition with, “We all have these different pieces I just mentioned, but there’s one piece that we don’t pay attention to and that’s friendship. You see, friendship is important,” something along that line so that it’s effortless. When people walk away they go, “Boy, that was really good.”

Now look, we could spend our time talking about presentations. I’m going to involve that audience. The more they talk, the more they typically like and trust that presenter. I’m going to do other things, but it’s the transitions even when we communicate and are not giving presentations.

What if we’re just in front of somebody giving a proposal, what if we’re having a conversation and we want to get the three major points, it’s that smooth transition as opposed to that bumpity, bump, bump, bump. It sounds like Pete wanted to talk about this one. That’s the one I want to avoid. That doesn’t sound authentic. We circle back to our topic, which is why people don’t believe you because it’s not sounding authentic.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly. I get a real kick out of when the transition is too, “So, can I have your money?” and it’s done poorly. It’s like, “Oh, you poor guy. Well, I’m already on board with your vision, so it’s fine, but-“ Okay, awesome. Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. Believing in yourself, that sounds classic and helpful and essential, but in practice, if your belief in self is moderate, like “Yeah, I can do a decent job most of the time I guess,” how does one elevate that?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Did you ever see there was a commercial done years ago by FedEx? It’s actually on YouTube. You can find it online. It was called The Stolen Idea.

It deals with a boss who’s asking for ideas. One guys says, “Well, we could probably save money by putting all our shipping in one area and using FedEx.” You could hear a pin drop. Five seconds later the boss says, “I’ve got it. We can put everything in one area. We can use FedEx to do it all. That’ll save us on shipping.” Everybody goes, “That’s brilliant.”

The guy says, “You just said the same thing I said only you did this,” and he’s moving his hands horizontally. The boss says, “Nope, I did this,” and he moves his hand vertically because that was his gesture. I actually look at that commercial and I think that’s our jumping off point. Yes, I know what FedEx was after and shame on that boss for stealing that idea. But we need to teach people how to do this. This matters. That moving of the hands, that really matters.

To me, it’s a matter of kind of oftentimes finding your real voice. Not finding some voice you saw on television or who you heard on a podcast, but finding your real voice.

I don’t know last time you’ve been on a plane, but when you’re on a plane and the flight attendant starts speaking, you think “It’s funny, he or she was just here. We had a nice conversation. But now I’m hearing this really weird singsong ….” That’s not a real voice.

Why is it that a lot of times when we’re presenting or when we’re under pressure, we start going after this I guess the voice we thought we were supposed to have? Nobody wants that. People just want to believe. They want that to be authentic.

I always look at people and I think, if we were two people having a beer or having a cup of coffee, would you still talk and walk and behave this way or would you just drop all that and have a conversation? It’s really about finding that real voice. Honestly, you don’t have to look that far.

I’ll whisper this to presenters right before they go on stage when they’re a little bit tight. The last words I’ll typically tell somebody is, “If you were walking into your living room, what would you feel and how would you take that stage? That’s your living room. Now go enjoy yourself.” Forget all that other nonsense. In the living room, it’s pretty easy. Well, that’s all the audience wants. Whether it’s 50 people, 500 people or 1 person, they’re in your living room. Go have a conversation. We don’t need anything but authenticity.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s funny when you say the living room, my first thought is, “Well, I’m taking off these dress shoes and putting on my slippers.”

Rob Jolles
Well, I knew a presenter who was actually very successful. Now this was in the ‘90s. But he was a finance person and a finance specialist, which already you think, “Well, okay. Here’s comes that big old suit.” But he would take his shoes off when he went on that stage.

It was kind of his shtick. It was like George Burns smoking a cigar or something. This was his shtick. He was the guy who would take his shoes off. But it worked for him. It wasn’t shtick. I got a chance to speak to him a couple times and he just wanted to get to a place where he was as comfortable as he could be because then he could take that communication and make them as comfortable as they can be.

Last thing about that, but it’s really important to understand that an audience really they want to enjoy themselves. They want you to be successful. The best way to make an audience uncomfortable is for you to be uncomfortable.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s very true.

Rob Jolles
Then they feel badly for you and then they have a problem. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, yeah. It hurts to watch somebody who’s bombing. They know they’re bombing. They’re nervous about bombing. It’s like, “Oh man.” It’s just fun to watch someone having fun. It’s like, “I’m not super into the content of what you’re saying, but it’s kind of enjoyable to watch you be into it. Yeah, take it away.”

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s the funny thing. If you think about some of the great – Johnny Carson or Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon, what are some of the most enjoyable parts of the monologue or the conversation? When something bombs. They don’t put their head in their hand and they go, “Oh no. What happened here?” What they do is they just work with it.

The audience loves it because you didn’t make the audience feel sorry for you. You said to them in a sense, “I’m glad this happened. Let’s just work with it.” When you can take that with you and realize that what’s the worst happen, really just making them feel badly, so don’t. Away we go. It’s a lot easier up there than you think.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. I think I made some references to maybe college audiences and they’re just like, “We have no idea what this.” I was like, “Oh, I guess I’m getting old.” They all just sort of – you can just sort of laugh about that. It’s like, “Yup, okay.” Then away we go. As opposed to “Oh, that’s so stupid. I shouldn’t have made that allusion. Look up the dates next time, Pete. Oh! Bad, bad, bad.”

Rob Jolles
You know something, Pete? You hit on something else that I think is actually really important.  When we’re not in front of people, and remember we’re talking about building credibility, believing in yourself, and then taking that to others.

Do you know – and my wife helped me with this one – do you know how innocently that inner voice starts chirping at you of “If you had half a brain, you would have remembered to bring this with you on the road.” “Hey stupid, don’t forget that.” Do you know that that’s a lot more dangerous than we give it credit? It doesn’t have to be in front of anyone. It can just be with ourselves. But you keep beating yourself up like that, you’re going to start believing it.

I really some years ago decided it’s not okay to make fun of me and to start moaning and whining and complaining about certain things. People forget things. I’m two and a half million miles in the air, believe me I’ve forgot things in my bag. But I’ve decided – and it really works and I think it works for others – to be a lot kinder yourself.

Stop chirping and beating yourself up about things. Just like we would talk about in front of an audience, be nice to yourself when there isn’t an audience in front of you too.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love to hit that point real quick. If you are in that mental habit, how does one kick it?

Rob Jolles
Yeah. Well, the first thing we have to do is we have to go from unconsciously incompetent, which is “Hey, that’s okay,” or “I don’t even notice it,” to really starting to become aware of it. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of the four levels of conscious behavior, but we start with unconscious incompetency, which is sometimes we don’t know that we don’t know. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Well, that’s why you and I are having this conversation because now maybe we’ll be on the lookout for it. As a matter of fact, just talking about it, I can assure you, there are many people who are listening right now will go, “I do that, but I don’t mean anything by it.” I’m telling you it’s a cancer. It grows. You don’t realize it. Let’s move you to conscious incompetency, which means I want you to be aware when you do it.

Then let’s move to conscious competency. I want you to be a little robotic and every time it accidently happens, I want you to stop and correct it. I know that’s a little bit stiff and weird. Until we become unconsciously competent, when we do it and we don’t have to think about it anymore. But it’s natural to be on that scale. The first thing is we have to remind ourselves it’s not okay. It is not okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. Well, so now-

Rob Jolles
I said it’s not okay. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
That is not okay. I am now acknowledging what you said and moving to something new.

Rob Jolles
Okay. I’ve got to climb in through the window there. I was out there yelling at people. Okay, I’m back in. Let’s keep going.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about that process by which you take yourself back to a place in which you were successful and thusly you method act your way into having a high performance moment. In practice, what are the steps to make that happen?

Rob Jolles
Well, the first thing – I’m going to leave the corporation out. There’s a Fortune 500 company I’ve been working with on this. One of the things we did was, again, think method acting. What we did was we began to on a piece of paper create a character.

One of my favorite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I’m not sure he’s ever going to be in another movie again, but when he was – I don’t know if you saw Lincoln, but if you did, it was probably a little slower than you imagined. I knew it was going to be slow because I actually read a bunch of books on Lincoln and Lincoln wasn’t the most exciting person in the world. But on set, you had to call Daniel Day-Lewis either Mr. President or Mr. Lincoln. He doesn’t mess around.

When we’re talking, to answer your question, we’re talking about getting into character, sometimes we have to sit and actually think about that character. I did some acting earlier in my life. I remember the first play I was in I was Bennie Van Buren in Damn Yankees. I was supposed to play a 70-year-old. But I had a great director, who, by the way, I spoke to when I wrote this book and we talked about this.

I remember him saying, “What kind of car does Bennie drive? What kind of cereal does he eat? Tell me about his house. What’s his office look like?” What he was doing – at first I thought he was a lunatic. I don’t know. It’s just a character I’m playing. But he didn’t want me to learn the script. At some point I knew that character so well, I walked around, I was 70 years old in my mind.

What I do sometimes is actually get people on a piece of paper to begin to actually write out their character a little bit, not necessarily what kind of cereal do they eat, but tell me about your character. Perform some tasks in front of me like your character. Forget everything else. We clear the mind. We work on establishing a character.

Actually, for some people it will be three characters. It’s a more dominant character, it’s a more social character, and it’s a more analytical character. If you’re wondering why in the world I do that, it’s because I work with a lot of salespeople. We have to kind of mirror the character we see in front of us.

Maybe I’m very social, what if I’m talking to somebody who’s really dominant? Well, I’ll just play the role of a dominant person. Not so fast. You better understand – before you put that white glove on, you better understand that character, so we actually write it out and think about it. I actually give them simple questions, like a questionnaire. They begin to role play and really get in touch with that character. Then they can tap into it when they need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, interesting. You’re mapping out upfront. You’re doing some role play there. We also had Todd Herman talk about his book, The Alter-Ego Effect. He recommended sometime putting on a blazer or glasses or something that sort of en-clothed cognition, sort of stepping into that all the more. That’s handy.

Then I’m also wondering is there some visualization or some key memories that you’re bringing up and how do you go about doing that part?

Rob Jolles
Yeah, that’s where we go into that piece about, for me at least, and remember, I frequently work with people who are selling. Look, what I’m trying to have them visualize are moments of dominance, moments of success.

It’s weird. I’m 26 years in business as a professional speaker and yet, just like everyone else, sometimes you’re as good as your last presentation, you’re as good as your last quarter and all of the sudden a speaker’s bureau threw three clients at me. I spoke to them on the phone. None of them wanted to hire me. What do you think I sound like on the fourth call?

What I’m trying to do is get to moments where when we do get three in a row, when we do knock it out of the park and somebody says, “Okay, now I have another client I want you to talk to.” That’s what I mean in terms of that visualization of “Okay, maybe I’m not there right now, but I can think back on when I was. What was I feeling like?” I sort of take myself to that moment.

Pete, it kind of comes back to that percentage play. I’m not guaranteeing you that we’re going to be successful right now, but I guarantee you this, having that mindset and being able to pull that memory down is going to pick up some percentage plays and that’s what I’m looking for. Again, it’s mental, but it’s there.

No one’s had a life of complete loss. It’s everybody. We win some; we lose some. We win some; we lose some. It’s when we lose some, a bunch in a row that all of the sudden the shoulders start to droop and we kind of start picking up the phone going in my mind, “I know this guy isn’t going to buy from me, but here we go.” That’s not going to work for anybody.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thinking right back to the hot streak, the winning moments. That’s good. That’s good.

Rob Jolles
Well, it’s the winning moments. I keep pushing everything into sales, but in presentations a lot of times, particularly when somebody is new or somebody – I’ll also whisper in their ear, track record because maybe people who are listening right now have got 10 or 20 years under their belt, but maybe this quarter hasn’t been so good. Or maybe they haven’t given a presentation in a while or they’re being put in an awkward position.

What’s your track record like? Most people go, “Usually I’m pretty good at that.” Okay, again I’m looking for a couple percentage moves. To get the experience, how about we focus on what usually happens. Pete, when you have a podcast, what usually happens? When I’m a guest on a podcast, it usually goes real well. Not all the time, but usually goes real well.

I’m better off kind of focusing on my track record. That’s to me another kind of really great visualization. It’s simple and it’s easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. Well, tell me, is there anything that you recommend that we really don’t do? We’ve talked about the negative self-talk, not doing that. We talked about not stepping into who you think that you are supposed to be, but rather just using your own natural authentic voice. Any other top don’ts you want to make sure we highlight?

Rob Jolles
That’s a great question. I’m actually thinking of how I would address that. Yeah, I would say that I think we should stop being so fearful of dysfunction. We brought it up a little bit when maybe things don’t go well in front of an audience, but I think, again, whether it’s while we’re alone or whether we’re in groups, I like to tell people that I’m coaching or working with, let’s embrace that dysfunction a little bit.

Kind of going back to that limp a little bit, let’s remember that there’s only two types of people that don’t walk with a limp, that don’t have some level of dysfunction. They’re either not telling you the truth or they would have no ability to have compassion for another individual. Most of them really aren’t necessarily people I’d want to have as a client. I can tell you that much.

It’s funny, I wrote a piece one time where I said “knowledge is overrated.” Believe me, all the analytical practically followed me to the parking lot going, “Now what did you mean by that?” They were not happy.

I didn’t say it’s not important. I just said it’s overrated meaning as simple as it sounds, but I’m a guy that takes and has people record themselves, if we just work harder at asking questions and listening, if we just go a little easier on ourselves, if we embrace that dysfunction rather than run from it and understand, “That’s okay. That’s my limp. I’m not going to have trouble with it.” All those little pieces get us plays.

Just last real quick point, but I’m in a neighborhood where we’ve got a lot of dog walkers, including our Lilly, who we take for a walk. There’s not one but two dogs that are missing legs, a leg each. I got to tell you, it touches my heart because I look at them and I think I wish we were more like that because I promise, Pete, that dog doesn’t give a hootenanny that he’s missing a leg.

And neither does any other dog that’s walking by it. They’re sniffing. They’re curious where they might have been on that tree over there, but they don’t care. It’s not an issue. I wish we could learn lessons like that and remember that whatever it is and everybody’s got one, if it’s not a worry for you, it’s not a worry for the other dogs in the park. I promise you.

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

Rob Jolles
Yeah, I would say as strange as this conversation may have sound because we’re talking about some kind of wacky – once I said role and character, what is all that. I want to remind people they probably do this more often than they think.

An example I’ll give you is if you have children that you parent, don’t tell me that you don’t actually drop into role, meaning particularly for the younger ones, when they brought back a homework assignment that wasn’t quite right or something, we kind of look at our spouse and go, “Okay, I’ll go in there.” We play the role of disappointed. I’m actually not as disappointed. I love you so much. But for tonight Rob Jolles will be playing the role of disappointed.

I think we do that more naturally than we think. Where we explore this finding a character and getting into role, please remember there are times where we all play roles; you’re just not thinking about it as much. I want you to think about it. Then I want you to stop thinking about it again. But that would be the last thought I give you on that one.

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

Rob Jolles
I gave you one, which is “Worry is the misuse of your imagination.” Okay, now I’ll give you another one “We weren’t put on this earth to make a living. We were put on this earth to make a difference.”

It’s always meant something to me, particularly for a guy who – when I tell you I’ve got two and a half million miles in the air, Pete, part of you should smile and part of you should look concerned, meaning “Well, does this guy have a family? Does this guy have children? Does he get to a birthday party?”

I’m really blessed. I have a wonderful wife, Ronnie, who helped me realize that I was a little out of balance earlier in my career, and I’d never heard of that quote, nor did I take it to heart. But I really believe in balance. I’m no longer a 1K and that’s just fine by me. I think that we focus on that, things will go a lot better for us.

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

Rob Jolles
I’ll tell you a bit or research or a study. It kind of falls into an author I happen to like. He’s with my publisher, Berrett-Koehler. Name is Noah Blumenthal. But he studied – he wrote a book called Be the Hero, but he studied how easy it is for us to have negative opinions of others, particularly of others that have done us wrong, maybe a previous boss or a neighbor or somebody just that – the person at CVS, I don’t know, where it really rubbed us the wrong way.

He really got me thinking, and it’s really helped, that we really don’t know many of the people that we form opinions about. We really don’t know them that well. We create a scenario that’s usually very negative. Now that scenario might be right, but we actually don’t know whether it’s right or not.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Rob Jolles
I keep a journal. I’ve kept it for 22 years.
But what I found was by methodically being observant, which is a journal will do, because I will only write twice in my journal, on the way out and on the way back of a trip. I am almost OCDish. When we get to 10,000 feet, I’m putting a date and a location on that journal entry.

But it’s a tool that actually, particularly for the way back, that allows me to kind of figure out to stop, pause and in process say, “Okay, what do you think was working there and what do you think wasn’t working there?”

Like I said, I’ve been doing this 31 years, putting a mic around my neck and talking to audiences and yet, I want you to know Pete that I still want to get better and that means I still want to figure out “Okay, what did we do well? What can we improve?”

Very importantly, I always balance that feedback because I’ve said it too many times already, but this isn’t a beat-up session. A lot of times we undervalue taking time to figure out what we’re doing well, so we don’t do it by accident. But that’s been a tool. I probably have well over 3,000 pages of journal entries.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they quote it back to you at times?

Rob Jolles
If you want to get at the most fundamental way to communicate, we have to ask questions and listen. That doesn’t just mean what you and I are doing right now or if we’re going one-on-one with a client or a prospect, even in front of an audience.

If you want to know what the amateurs and even the pros do wrong, if I put down the 20 biggest mistakes they make, 19 of them don’t equal number one, which is too much information and that means constricting the ability for that audience to communicate with you, even if it’s rhetorical questions.

But those little touches, those little “Turn to your left, look at that partner, and say three things here. Try two things there,” that ability to build a conversation as opposed to a lecture are very valuable. I would like to think that I’ve said it enough, that who knows, maybe people would associate that with me. I’d be proud if they did.

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

Rob Jolles
That’s an easy one. I would just take them to J-O-L-L-E-S.com that’s where you’ll find – I write something called a BLArticle. I am in my tenth year of BLArticles. That’s a blog-article. I just try – and by legal definition it’s 500 to 700 words. I just try and practice what we’re preaching, you and I, which is let’s not over communicate, but let’s provide value and drip out information. But anyway that’s where all sorts of information on me is.

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

Rob Jolles
Okay. Pete, you’re really coming at me. I like this. My final challenge would be I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what you think is out there holding you back; get out of your own way. Pete, you and I have hit it over and over and over again. Just be kinder to yourself, accept whatever limp you have, and I can assure you, you’ve got one. That’s okay. Don’t let it be a big issue. It won’t be with anybody else.

Go in there, again, the easiest way to find that authentic you is just get up there, wherever it is, tell the truth. If the truth is a struggle right now, double back and figure out – I’ve got to rebrand, I’ve got to do something, but I’ve got to find a way of telling the truth. If you solve that, then you’ve got it made. The rest is easy.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Rob, this has been a blast. Thanks so much for bringing it. I wish you lots of luck with your speaking and all you’re up to.

Rob Jolles
Oh, I appreciate it. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed the conversation.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Brenda

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brenda Bailey Hughes Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Within ten minutes it should be initiated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, please do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Verbal encouragers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
You did. You did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
What the accountant said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brenda Bailey-Hughes
Okay.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right, thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Do it. All right.

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

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

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