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536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Julian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

525: Delivering Presentations with Presence and Confidence with Christine Clapp

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Christine:

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Christine Clapp Interview Transcript

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

Christine Clapp
Thanks so much for having me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
It sounds lovely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Kind of like Justin Timberlake?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
We just had her on the show recently.

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

Pete Mockaitis
She’s great.

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

Pete Mockaitis
We had him, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christine Clapp
Thank you so much.

505: How to Make Data Inspire Action with Nancy Duarte

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Nancy:

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

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Nancy Duarte Interview Transcript

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

Nancy Duarte
Thanks for having me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How does that work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nancy Duarte
Oh, I love Robert.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
With the food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite books?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Erica

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Erica Mandy Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Go ahead.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
What does that mean? Yes.

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
“You make me wonder.”

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Right. Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

Erica Mandy
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Is that right, Fogarty?

Erica Mandy
Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erica Mandy
Thank you so much. This was fun.

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.