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691: How to Listen Like You Mean It with Ximena Vengoechea

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Ximena says: "Listening really can be learned. It's a skill just like any other."

Ximena Vengoechea breaks down the formula for effective listening.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The psychological trick to help you stay in the conversation 
  2. The questions that create better conversation
  3. The cues to look out for in a conversation 

 

About Ximena

Ximena Vengoechea is a user researcher, writer, and illustrator whose work on personal and professional development has been published in Inc., The Washington Post, Newsweek, and Huffington Post. She is the author of Listen Like You Mean it: Reclaiming the Lost Art of True Connection (Portfolio/Penguin Random House). 

She is a contributor at Fast Company and The Muse, and writes Letters from Ximena, a newsletter on tech, culture, career, and creativity. She is best known for her project The Life Audit. An experienced manager, mentor, and researcher in the tech industry, she previously worked at Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Twitter. 

Resources Mentioned

Ximena Vengoechea Interview Transcript

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom about listening but, first, I want to hear how your experience in user experience research helped you understand and think about this whole world.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, user research is a field and technology that I think not everyone is familiar with. I think of it as one of the more people-centric roles in tech, and my job as a user researcher is really to understand people and to get to know their needs and their motivations and perceptions, ultimately in order to help companies build better products.

And, for me, my specialty is in qualitative research, and so what that means is that the tools of the trade that I’m often using are conversations, workshops, interviews, and, crucially, listening. And so, a lot of the lessons that come from my experience in the UX lab, in the book, I’ve sort of translated them into everyday world, like circumstances and conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s intriguing and I imagine listening well can make or break the difference between getting that huge insight that makes the product fantastically better and just being blindly unaware that that is an issue for people. Go ahead.

Ximena Vengoechea
No, I was going to just agree with you. Yes, in the sense that when you are conducting a session and you’re trying to uncover a set of insights, if you are distracted by your own thoughts or if you believe too deeply in the product that you’re testing, and let that bias get in the way, then that’s definitely going to affect the outcome and what you’re able to learn in terms of that key set of insights that you’re trying to uncover.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you share with us a story, either from your own experience or someone you know who’s been working with your tools, where you saw such a transformation in terms of the listening got upgraded and, wow, what a cool result emerged from that?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes. So, several years ago, I was conducting a study on meal planning, so I wanted to know, “How do people cook? How do they meal-plan? How do they budget for their meals?” And I remember that there was a really strong hypothesis on the team that certain features were sort of must-have features and others were less important. And, specifically at the time, there was a really strong interest in using things like voice activation in the kitchen, and it sort of made sense that you’re cooking and so you want to be able to tell Siri or Alexa or whomever, “Pull up that recipe. Tell me what to do next,” handsfree so that you can chop and do other things.

And, at the same time, it also kind of felt like a very “tech” kind of feature, like a very Silicon Valley desire. And so, one of the things that I did was I scheduled these sessions and we went out to Chicago, which felt a little more representative than the Bay Area of maybe the broader population, and we did cook-a-longs. So, I interviewed people but I also observed them in their kitchen. And we often think of listening as just using your ears but this was a great example of using your ears and your eyes, where you’re observing what someone is doing.

You have all of these questions in the moment that you want to ask them, but you have to really kind of catch yourself and learn to harness some patience because, if I were to interrupt a participant every time they moved from working on their phone to a cookbook or the back of the pasta box, if I had a question around, like, “Oh, do you normally do that?” that would totally change, it would completely alter the course of their actions. And, at worse, someone might begin to perform for me and think, “Oh, she wants me to cook in a certain way,” or, “She wants me to use my iPad but not my recipe cards,” which was certainly not the case.

So, in that study, that was an example of being able to go and immerse myself in an environment, crucially picked people who weren’t necessarily like me or my group of colleagues, and bring in both the aspect of listening, which is about asking questions and creating space for others, but also that observation piece and being patient and not letting that instinct, that I think many of us have in conversation, to say the first thing that pops into our head or ask that question right away, but instead just to take a beat instead and see what we can learn that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then so, in doing that, I’m curious, did you learn what you were seeking to learn? What was the takeaway, the insight, the aha? Are people into the voice-activated business or not as much?

Ximena Vengoechea
At the time, it turned out to not be a crucial feature and it was something that we didn’t pursue. I think the sort of less sexy but really basic features became much more important, like being able to filter and say, “I’m a vegetarian so don’t show me recipes that have meat in them,” for instance, or, “I’m lactose intolerant. I want to only see recipes that don’t have dairy.” Those kinds of basic but really important functionality end up trumping the sort of bells and whistles of anything like voice activation.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, having spent so much of your career doing listening and you’ve put some of your wisdom in the book of yours, Listen Like You Mean It, what are some of the most surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made along the way about how we listen and form connections here?

Ximena Vengoechea
Well, I think one of the biggest takeaways and maybe the most counterintuitive thing that I’ve learned about listening is that we have this idea, when we think about listening, that we’re there for the other person and that it’s all about the other person. And that’s true, we are there to learn about someone else. But we also, critically, are bringing in so much of ourselves into conversations. And in order to really be an effective listener, you have to build some self-awareness about exactly what you’re bringing in.

So, those thoughts that you’re bringing into conversations, the emotions you’re bringing into a conversation, your personal experience, your personal history either with that person or a topic, all of those things are part of what make us unique but they’re also part of what can prevent us from fully engaging and listening to another person. So, it’s an interesting dynamic when you want to be there for someone else, but you really also need to be kind of tracking what’s going on for yourself in any given moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, then let’s hear it, the big idea with the book Listen Like You Mean It. To what extent do you think folks are listening like they mean it? What’s the state of listening today?

Ximena Vengoechea
I would say we could probably all be doing a lot better. I think most of us are typically engaging in what I would call surface listening mode. So, we are catching enough of what the other person is saying in a given moment to nod and smile, be polite, to keep our relationships more or less intact, but we’re only catching the literal, the surface level of what’s being said, and we’re often missing the subtext, the meaning beneath what’s being said, and also the emotions behind what’s being said.

And I think that that, when you’re able to go all the way down to the level of emotions, that’s where the real human-to-human connection occurs, and that’s where I think we could all be playing…we could be going much deeper in our conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Well, so then could you maybe give us a demonstration here between what surface listening looks, sounds, feels like versus the deeper listening that creates the connections?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, surface listening, that is something where you’re catching a little bit but you’re also engaging in those thoughts that are running through your head. You might be thinking about your to-do list, or maybe you’re in a meeting and thinking, “Okay, I’ve already heard enough. I know what I need to do. I can tune out now or start on my list of action items,” or maybe we are kind of missing that the other person is upset or is having some strong emotional response where we’re just not tracking that.

Whereas, empathetic listening is when that thought comes up that we’re distracted or we’re creating that to-do list, it’s noticing that and it’s going, “Oh, okay. I’m getting distracted, let me come back to center.” Or, it’s noticing that we’re having an emotional response to something, and saying, “Oh, you know what? I’m feeling my throat start to tighten up a little bit, I’m feeling my chest start to pound a little bit. I’m having an emotional response. Let me see if I can center myself before returning to this conversation.” So, it’s about tracking those things and then returning to the present and being there for someone else.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, in practice, if we’ve got other thoughts going on or emotional reactions and such, how do we just stop and return? Do you write them down, your extraneous thoughts? Or, is there a mantra or a trick either with your mind or your body? How do we return?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, it’s a good question. I think it’s less about trying to forever stop those thoughts because I think even meditation experts would say, “It’s not like you have a completely blank mind. It’s just becoming aware of those thoughts and acknowledging them.” So, I recommend a trick that psychologists are using in cognitive behavioral therapy, which is labeling.

And so, that is actually saying in your head, “I am being distracted by this thought,” or, “I’m having this response,” so you’re labeling it. That helps you release it. Other things that can be helpful, one mantra that can be helpful is reminding yourself that if it’s really important, the thought is going to come back to you. Typically, that’s the case. We sometimes get nervous and want to cling to every thought that comes into our mind, but the really, really important ones tend to come back to us.

And then I also recommend focusing on the emotions of what’s being said. Sometimes we’re so caught up in trying to capture all the details, like there’s a tendency to want to write everything down in a conversation, or take copious notes, but you will remember if someone is upset or confused or stressed, and that’s the thing to hone in on. And so, if you can give yourself the benefit of the doubt of, “Okay, if I can get the emotion, the rest will follow,” that can also relieve some of the anxiety around, “I have to jot everything down right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we go about getting to the emotion? Like, are there…? Because, in some ways, it just seems some people just intuitively just do this and others don’t. So, if you don’t, then how do you start?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, part of it is coming into conversation with what I call listening mindset, and that’s bringing in humility, curiosity, and empathy, and that’s different than how we normally show up in conversation, which is often we’re bringing in our own assumptions or opinions or ideas, and this is really about creating space for someone else. So, humility is taking the position of a student rather than an expert, and reminding yourself that there’s something that you can learn from the other person.

Curiosity is taking that a bit deeper by asking questions, asking in particular open-ended questions that allow the other person to lead the way. And then empathy is tapping into their emotional experience, not in the sense that you have to have shared a given experience. Maybe someone has just been laid off and you have not been laid off so you don’t know exactly what that feels like but you probably have some idea of what it feels like to grieve over something that you thought you had and no longer have, or to experience something like shame over that. And so, it’s tapping into those emotions as well. And all of these are really about shifting the focus away from yourself and towards another person.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s nifty. And I think sometimes it’s tempting and it may even really be the case that you know way more about something than the person that you’re listening to does. But I imagine you’ve got some suggestions when that’s the case. What do we do there?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, it’s a great point. Because I think when we do have a given level of expertise, those are the moments that are often the hardest to set that aside and really listen to the other person. So, in that case, I recommend asking yourself, “What else?” Like, “What else can I learn here? Even if I have expertise, what else might I learn? And, specifically, what can I learn about this other person?”

So, maybe there’s a topic that you’re a wiz at, maybe it’s like personal finance or something like that. Okay, so maybe you’re not going to learn much more from this person about that topic, but what does they’re talking about this topic tell you about them and how they relate to you, to this conversation, to that topic at large?

So, it’s looking for other threads, it’s looking for understanding someone else’s expertise, and that expertise may just be their lived experience. That’s what they’re an expert in, and you can learn something from that.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And then with curiosity, it’s funny, sometimes I’ve got tons of curiosity and sometimes I just don’t care if I’m just going to be really blunt and honest about it. So, I’d like to be curious. I feel like that’s the person I aspire to be. So, if curiosity isn’t naturally bubbling up, what do you recommend?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, I think this is somewhat common. I think we all have topics that we’re not naturally interested in, and that’s okay. And I think, in this case, you’re looking for what’s the overlap maybe between the other person’s interest and your interest. So, to give a tangible example, in the book I talk about sports as not being my personal thing. It’s something that I struggle to and pay attention to and really focus. And if my husband is talking about sports, I have a couple of options. I could totally tune out, and say, “Hey, I’m not the sports type so we’re not going to talk about that.” That’s probably not going to go over super well. Or, I can try and find something that I’m interested in that overlaps with what he’s interested in.

And, in my case, something that I know about myself is I’m interested in people and I’m interested in their stories. So, if I can get the conversation away from the scoreboard to, “Tell me about the coaches. Tell me about the team dynamics. Tell me about their rituals,” that’s interesting to me and it’s interesting to him. So, you’re looking for that sort of overlap between two interests, and that’s where you can start to tug and have a pretty interesting conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s clever and what’s funny is that is I’m thinking about the Olympics. That’s exactly what they always do. So, we got this sport, and then we go to zoom in on the Olympian’s life and their childhood and their history and their dedication and their story and their difficulty. And I think they do it because it works, in terms of, “Okay, we’re trying to maximize the viewership. We’re going to need to do more than just fancy triple axel spins on the ice-skating rink or running really fast on the track. We’re going to have to go there to rope in all the more folks.”

Ximena Vengoechea
People like me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, that’s a really lovely example. Let’s go with, I’m just going to put you on the spot here with another one. Boy, I get a little bit glazed over when we talk about like compliance-accounting things. It’s funny. Except, as I recall some conversations with my accountant, except when we’re discovering opportunities to save on taxes, I was like, “What, I can do that? Oh, wow, that’s amazing.” Like, I get really jazzed. So, I guess there’s one example there but I’ll ask you to do the same. And maybe you’re into that, I don’t know. But how might you curiously maneuver into a fun place there?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. Well, I think one thing I’ll caveat is that you’re not always going to maneuver into a fun place but you will maneuver somewhere. So, in the case of something like accounting and compliance, those topics that kind of leave you with eyes glazed over, if there’s not an obvious thread, if there’s not an obvious overlap that you can kind of pull at, and this is a conversation that you kind of need to have and you need to be present for, like it’s important, another thing that you can do is to look for the underlying need. So, what does the other person need from this conversation, need particularly from you in this conversation? And, in some cases, it’s going to be really obvious, in some cases it’s not going to be obvious, but you’re looking for, “What is the need and how can I meet it?”

So, maybe the conversation about compliance is super boring but there’s a need there for you to approve something or for you to sign off on something. The sooner you can uncover that need, the sooner you can meet it, the sooner you can have a different kind of conversation, or talk to someone else. And so, sometimes when you are looking for that common ground, it is about extending the conversation, sometimes it is about being more efficient with the conversation and just tuning in more quickly to, “What is the other person trying to get out of this conversation with me?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then, as we’re listening for emotions, are there particular signs, indicators, that you’re on the lookout for in terms of vocal intonation or facial expressions? Like, I’m thinking about we had former FBI agent Joe Navarro who wrote “What Every Body Is Saying.” That was fun. So, I guess I’m curious, are there particular signals that grab your attention or you proactively look out for?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest thing that I look for is a change over the course of the conversation. So, if someone starts out speaking in measured tones or a deliberate even pace and then suddenly speeds up, or their pitch changes in some way, that’s something that I would want to pay attention to and try and figure out, if the topic is changed, or if they no longer feel safe in the conversation, or suddenly do.

So, we’re looking for or listening for a shift. Certainly, body language is part of that. So, I’m familiar with Joe Navarro’s work, and he talks about where your feet are pointing. So, someone can be looking at you eye to eye but their feet are pointing towards the door, and that’s a tell that maybe they’re ready to leave the conversation and just haven’t been able to articulate it.

He also talks about collar bone, like neck touching as a self-soothing mechanism. If you’ve ever seen somebody play with their collar, that kind of thing. So, you’re tracking voice and tone and body language, and also, obviously, what they’re saying as well. And I think it can be hard to do if someone is not explicit, if someone doesn’t explicitly say, “I’m really upset about X.” Sometimes it’s obvious that they are upset and we just need to ask about it.

Other times, we have to kind of feel around and they’re also feeling around in conversation, and so you’re listening for things like, literally, “I feel like…” when we place the word “I feel…” or if someone says, “I’m swamped with…” Okay. Well, that’s interesting. They’re underwater. They feel overwhelmed and under water. Do they feel under pressure and under water?

So, you’re listening for certain cues, signals in terms of what they’re saying as well that you can, again, get curious about, so that it’s less, “Oh, I’m swamped,” and you’re like, “Yeah, me too.” But, “Oh, you’re swamped. Oh, what’s that like? So, what’s happening? What’s on your plate? And how do you feel about that? How do you feel about having such a busy schedule?” That’s going to have a different outcome in terms of a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, let’s say, so you pick on some emotions, and I guess maybe talking about the connecting side of things, what’s the best way to work with that? I guess I’m just imagining, like you could say, “It sounds like you’re really upset.” Sometimes that’s the right thing to say and sometimes it’s not. But how do you think about that?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes, that’s a good question in the sense that we’re not mind readers so we don’t always know what the other person wants, but this is where I think there’s two things that can be really helpful here. One is knowing what your default listening mode is, so how you usually how you tend to hear things in conversation. Maybe you’re someone who tends to hear things at an emotional level; or someone who is more of a problem-solver, they tend to hear things through the lens of a problem to be solved; or a mediator, someone who tends to hear things through the lens of, “Well, what does this person think? What did that person think? How can we make sure that everybody’s point of view is present here?”

And all of these modes are good and useful but need to be matched to the current moment and situation, and that’s the need. That’s going back to, “What is this person’s need?” So, if you don’t know what the need is and you don’t know your default mode, then it’s going to be very hard. You are going to be taking a guess when you say, “Hey, it sounds like you’re upset.” You’re kind of going out on a limb there to see if that’s what they need.

But if you’re able to identify your default listening mode, then you have a little bit of a gut check. So, you can check with yourself, “Okay, my instinct is to offer advice here. Is that what’s really needed? What does this person need?” Sometimes it will be obvious to you because you have a personal history with them, and you know, “Oh, this, for instance, colleague always talks around their requests. They don’t say point-blank, ‘I need another resource for this.’ They kind of give you the long and winding road.”

Sometimes you won’t have that context, so here’s where asking clarifying questions is a great path forward and so you can ask things like, you can say, “My instinct is to offer advice. Would that be useful here?” Or, “I actually have a similar experience. Would you like to hear how I’ve navigated this in the past?” Or, and I think this is the most general clarifying question but really useful one, is, “Would you like me to listen or respond?” Because sometimes there is nothing for us to do, and I think that’s very hard for us to internalize. But the only thing to “do” is to bear witness to someone else especially when it’s emotional.

And so, if they’re sharing something and we’re not sure, we can be there with them and give them that space, and maybe reflect back what they’re saying because it’s affirming, or maybe just check in with them on what would be useful in that moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a beautiful question because it’s like because you can respond any number of ways and that maybe you hadn’t even anticipated. Because I imagine, in my imaginary conversation I’m having, which you’ve said this to me, I can imagine saying all kinds of things, like, “What I need from you right now is to tell me I’m doing a great job.” It’s like, “Well, okay, that would not have occurred to me but, yeah, I’ve got tons of things to say about that, and so glad you asked. And here we go.” Or, it might be, “You know what would be awesome is if you could somehow just make hours appear in my life because things are insane.” It’s like, “Oh. Well, sure. Well, hey, how about you don’t bother with these three meetings that we got scheduled.” It’s like, “Oh, cool.”

And so, it feels actually kind of rare that someone would just ask that question and, an effect, is really giving a gift. That’s like, “Oh, all right. I am at your service.” And somehow it feels a little bit more specific and real and meaningful than, “Let me know I could be helpful to you,” which feels like that happens a lot in conversations of like a network-y format. And it’s funny because I never quite really know what I should ask for because it’s like, “Well, if you want to like, you know, promote the crap out of the podcast, that’d be great.” Whereas, when it’s seated in a conversation, you say it like that, it goes, “Okay. Well, yeah, here is really what I need from you.”

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, and I think those other questions that you’re mentioning are hard to respond to. They’re so broad. They’re so vague. I like the question of, “Would you like me to listen or respond?” also because it gives you two options. It gives someone something tangible to respond to. And, usually, the response, the actual need, is what they’ve been trying to say maybe implicitly.

Maybe they haven’t been able to explicitly say, “Hey, what I really need from you right now is to feel supported, and here’s how you can do that.” Or, maybe they thought they were saying that. Like, most of us aren’t very practiced at being explicit in expressing our needs. And so, offering this question is a really gentle way of saying, “I am here for you and you can guide me in a way that would be most helpful to you in this moment.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Well, so that was a lovely question there. Can you share with us any other favorite phrases, questions, that you just love and are very versatile and useful in many conversations or maybe some phrases, words, questions that you don’t love and we’d probably be better off losing them or using them much less frequently?

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, so I would say this is where the type of questions you ask really can make a big difference in conversations. So, we’re often not really paying attention to the questions we ask and they can be leading or biased in some way, and those questions, they don’t take the conversation anywhere. They end in one response or, yes or no responses, they tend to be close-ended in nature.

And so, that’s questions that start with do, is, or are. For example, “Are you nervous about tomorrow’s presentation?” “Are you nervous about this meeting?” That suggests that the person might have reason to be nervous, which maybe they should be, or maybe that’s your own, your nervousness being projected onto someone else. You’re going to get a very different response than if you start out with something more open-ended, like a how or a what question, “How do you feel about tomorrow’s presentation?” Okay, now the person can say, “I’m super excited about it. Like, I’m stoked and I’m ready to go,” which is a totally different response than we were leading them earlier. So, I think shifting from close-ended to open-ended questions is key.

And then the other thing I would say is to avoid having too open of a conversation, where the conversation is just like so broad and sprawling. You also do want to have handy follow-ups in your pocket. And so, those follow-ups if there’s a thread that’s particularly interesting or promising, you can say something like, “Oh, say more about that,” or, “What else?” or, “Tell me more,” or one that I really like is just to say, “Oh, and that’s because…” So, whatever it is they said earlier, I ask, “Oh, because?” and then the person will naturally fill it in. So, you have both the open-ended questions and then these gentle nudges that keep the conversation going.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s lovely about that, “Oh, and that’s because…” is that it, well, it’s much less defensiveness-provoking than “Why? But why?” It’s like, “Explain yourself,” like an interrogation. Whereas, “Oh, and that’s because…” is effectively a why without the threat. So, that’s cool.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, and that’s why I don’t recommend asking why very often. Of course, we all want to know why but it does sound defensive to our ears. And so, you can ask the question of why in a different way using, “That’s because…” or even, “How do you feel about that?” or, “What do you make of that?” Again, those how and what to start to get the why without kind of grating on the other person’s ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And then, I’m curious, when it comes to the third part of your book is about resting and recharging. Well, hey, I’m all about resting and recharging, but didn’t expect to see that in a book about listening. So, what’s the importance of this and how do we do it well?

Ximena Vengoechea
Well, I felt this was really important to include in the book because when you are practicing this type of listening where you are getting down to this emotional level and just really past the surface, it does take work and it is a natural side effect of this kind of listening to feel a little bit drained. It’s almost a sign of good listening at play. It’s like when you go out and you have a good workout, you’re excited but you’re also a little bit tired afterwards.

And so, we want to be able to take care of ourselves so that we don’t push ourselves too far because I think a real risk, if we’re not careful with this kind of listening, is that we start to create space for someone else in a conversation and we never take up space ourselves. So, become a sort of vessel for receiving everybody else’s feelings without having that same care and support returned to us, which really just means that the conversation has moved from a dialogue probably to a monologue where we’re on the receiving end of it, so we don’t want to go that far.

So, ways that you can take care of yourself in the process are thinking about things like what’s your magic number in terms of the amount of these kinds of conversations you can have a day, and how do they need to be distributed throughout your day. So, really concretely, when I was managing a team, I remember in the very beginning, I would try and stack my one-on-ones, like, “Okay, I’ll do all my one-on-ones on Tuesdays. We’ll just do them back-to-back and we’ll bang them out,” and I was exhausted by the end of it, and I also, frankly, wasn’t doing a great job of listening because I would be context-switching from one person’s challenges to the next without having taking a beat to pause and breathe.

And so, in my case, I learned, “Yeah, you probably shouldn’t have five back-to-back one-on-ones in a day. You should maybe try and spread those out over the course of a week or to a couple on one day and a couple on another day.” So, it’s about figuring out what is your magic number, how many of these kinds of conversations can you have effectively where you’re still listening and not exhausted, what kind of breaks can you have in between.

And I talk to a lot of people who say, “Well, I’m not in control of my calendar. Like, I am at the mercy of my calendar. So, what do I do then?” And to that, I say you can always take a 90-second breather in between meetings. Just you’re taking a little bit of a palette cleanser to reset, to say, “Okay, this person just gave me this. I’m going to put it aside, and now I’m going to be present for the next conversation.” So, even if it’s a microbreak, that becomes really, really important for helping you keep things running along.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now I’m curious, in a 90-second, a microbreak, what are some great things to do that make a world of rejuvenation difference in just a few seconds?

I’ll do some sharing right now. I’m taking a look at my silent mini-refrigerator in my office, which is pretty wild. It emits no noise, which I like for recording. And I have a bin of water, a little Tupperware bit of water, that’s cold, and I will shove my face in it. That’s weird but there’s cool science behind it – the mammalian dive reflex. And when you stick your face in cold water, you’d wake up in a hurry. So, that’s one of my quick rejuvenation rituals. I’d love to hear what you and others do that makes for some great recharging for more listening in a short amount of time.

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. So, I think it could be something like that. It could be maybe a more toned-down version, like just splashing water on your face, like room temperature water on your face can also maybe give you a version of that. But, yeah, another thing that you can do is to take those 90 seconds and write down every thought that comes into your mind, just like brain dump it out because sometimes that’s what we’re holding onto in between sessions. So, you can just write it and release it that way.

Sometimes just our closing your eyes, like literally just closing your eyes. Set a timer if you want, think about whatever you want, that can do it too. Don’t use that 90-second microbreak for doom-scrolling, for news-reading, or social media. It’s not going to have the same effect. It’s probably just going to cloud things even further. And then I also think there are certain mantras that you can repeat, especially if you are in a profession or in a role where you’re going to be carrying something, kind of on someone else’s behalf, where you can say, “Okay, this isn’t mine to keep. This doesn’t belong to me. I can safely let this go.” That’s especially useful, let’s say, if you’re in a caregiving role or industry, something where you’re really taking on someone else’s emotions.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I think the last thing that I’ll mention, and I hope this is is clear from this conversation, but I think we often think about speaking, presentation skills, effectively negotiating, influencing, those are things that can be learned and we think of listening as something that people are innately good at or not, and so we might write it off a little bit if we’re not one of those people who is just magically good at it, but it really can be learned. It’s a skill just like any other. And that’s, ultimately, what the book is trying to do, is to really explicitly lay out what are some of those techniques so that you can begin to take them up and practice them in your everyday.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Yes, so a quote that I love is “Never judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his shoes.” And that’s from a book called Walk Two Moons. And it’s really about empathy. It’s about not judging someone, and understanding that people have rich lives beyond what we know, and making space for that to be the case, which I find helpful in general, but especially when you’re…the day someone cuts you off while you’re driving, or if someone is slightly rude to you in a meeting, it’s like, “Okay, something else is going on. It’s probably not about me.”

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I find myself often returning to Sherry Turkle’s work. So, she is the author of Reclaiming Conversation and several other books. She looks at the intersection of society and technology, and she’s done a lot of research on how devices are changing our conversations in person, things like how even having a cellphone on the table, even if it’s face down, decreases our ability to empathize with the other person in conversation. So, I find her work to be very interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ximena Vengoechea
A favorite book, I mean, I do return to Reclaiming Conversation quite a bit so it’s certainly top of mind. And another book that I just finished, which is a totally different topic, is called Big Friendship, and it looks at maybe underrated relationship in our lives that doesn’t get much attention, but it talks about relationships, specifically in the context of friendship and how we treat those versus other relationships in our lives.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I really love analog tools, so my favorite being Post-Its and Sharpies. I find that I’m far less precious with my thoughts and that I don’t get overly attached to ideas. If I start something where I’m just in a deck and I’m immediately trying to work on a presentation that way, things look better than they are if you just write them on a sticky note. You kind of know that that’s the rough draft and I find it easier to rework ideas that way.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when you say precious, it means you’re more attached to it the more it’s all digitally dressed up and beautified. It feels like, “This is something that I cannot throw away or dramatically rework because of attractiveness.”

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah. And I think you also tend to rework in minor ways, so you’d be like, “Oh, something is off with the sentence. Let me move the comma or fiddle with this thing.” And it’s like, “Well, something might be off with the idea.” So, Post-Its allow you to work at the level of the idea and then, once you’ve gotten beyond that, then, sure, go and refine and prettify your deck and do all that stuff.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And I also find that when I’m in the constraint of a slide, it’s sort of like, “Well, this is the point I’m making, and this is the cool chart that I have, so I only have this box to do the thing.” It’s like, “Well, maybe it doesn’t need to be confined in that box in the first place.” And so, the format kind of pre-ordained or influenced the content prematurely. Well, I’m going to chew on that. Thank you.

Ximena Vengoechea
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Ximena Vengoechea
A favorite habit, taking breaks in terms of taking walks. Like, if I’m stuck on a challenging topic or can’t break through, I have learned to step away from the screen and just take a walk. I think our brains will often noodle things, on things, on our behalf when we’re not paying attention.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
I think the default listening modes really resonates with people because they can easily identify a mode, and whenever you have a type, you feel like, “Okay, I get this now.” And then the other one, I would say, is the role of silence in conversations is something that’s come up a lot where I talk about waiting 10 seconds, waiting a little bit longer than is comfortable in order to give the other person space. And that seems to be resonating with people because it’s hard and it goes counter to what we usually think about silence in conversations.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Best place to get in touch is on my website, so that’s XimenaVengoechea.com, and that’s kind of the hub for all of the offshoots, social media, and newsletter, book, all that good stuff.

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

Ximena Vengoechea
Yeah, I would say do your best to uncover what that hidden need is in conversation, especially in professional settings. The person’s job, function, whether they’re in marketing or sales or design, is a really good starting clue to uncovering that need.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ximena, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you many great conversations.

Ximena Vengoechea
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.

666: How to Build Trust and Connection through Digital Body Language with Erica Dhawan

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Leadership expert Erica Dhawan helps decode the new cues and signals that make up digital body language.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The new cues and signals to look out for
  2. Rules for emojis in emails
  3. The Zoom rule to keep everyone engaged

 

About Erica

Erica Dhawan is a globally recognized leadership expert and keynote speaker helping organizations and leaders innovate faster and further, together. Erica has spoken, worldwide, to organizations and enterprises that range from the World Economic Forum to U.S. and global Fortune 500 companies, associations, sports teams, and government institutions. Named as one of the top management professionals around the world by Global Gurus, she is the founder and CEO of Cotential – a company that has helped leaders and teams leverage twenty-first-century collaboration skills globally. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications, including Fast Company and Harvard Business Review. She has an MPA from Harvard Kennedy School, MBA from MIT Sloan, and BS from The Wharton School. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Erica Dhawan Interview Transcript

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

Erica Dhawan
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about Digital Body Language, but, first, I want to hear a little bit about your body of work in the realm of Bollywood dancing. What is the story here for you?

Erica Dhawan
I grew up as a shy and introverted girl in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and for most of my life, I struggled to find my voice. You couldn’t even realize I was there. Every teacher from kindergarten to 12th grade often said, “Erica is very studious and gave me straight As,” but every teacher had the same feedback, “I wish Erica spoke more in class.”

One of the things though that I loved and that really allowed me to connect with others was dancing. And coming from an Indian background, one of my biggest passions is Bollywood dancing. But with my passion and my work around connection and my research around how we really connect in today’s world, I found that so much of it comes not just through our heads but through our hearts.

And so, some of the things I love to do is not only Bollywood dance myself, but bring the spirit of dance and movement to my audiences as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, fun. So, then let’s talk now about body language, or specifically digital body language. You’ve got this book here about digital body language. Can you share with us what’s perhaps the most surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you made along the way as you were putting this together?

Erica Dhawan
One of the things, or knacks, that allowed me to find my voice, beyond just dance, was understanding body language and the importance of it to build connections. But as I used the power of body language to get great competitive jobs and accelerate in my career, I started noticing something over the last few years that was pervading workplaces and people’s family lives – there was no rulebook for how we showed body language in a digital world.

And it led me for the last four years to study what I called digital body language, which are the new cues and signals that we send in our digital communication that really make the subtext of our messages, whether it’s punctuation, response times, how we sign up an email, to how we showed up on a video call.

One of the most surprising things that I learned while writing my book Digital Body Language is I originally wrote it thinking that it was really an additive benefit or skill in addition to traditional body language. It was something you need once you learned the basics of traditional body language. But what I really realized, as we’ve unlocked our digital shift over the past year, is that digital body language is now changing the way we use traditional body language.

My research is showing that even when we work face to face, moving forward, we are more likely to look down on our phones multiple times, to miss the lean-in in a sales conversation, to think in bullet points and expect others to speak in bullet points, and we are missing a lot of the traditional cues of the head nod, the lean in, the direct eye contact that we used to have. So, digital body language is not just how you show up on a video screen or how you send emails, it is truly changing how we make others feel not only online but even in live meetings in our new normal.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so there’s a lot in there, and that’s exciting. So, you talked about the word rulebook so I want to dig into lots of the precise do’s and don’ts and the implications of them. But before we go there, could you maybe share with us a story about someone who’s able to transform their digital body language and see some cool results from that?

Erica Dhawan
One of the best examples from my own research on digital body language that I feature in my book is about a leader named Kelsey. She works at a large company, and Kelsey is someone who really cares about her people and leading her team. But one of the things that she got was some negative feedback through a performance review that her empathy was weak.

And I started coaching Kelsey, and when I started working with her, I started to look at all the typical markers of subpar empathy: poor listening skills, lack of engagement. And I found that Kelsey was actually fantastic at all these things. She showed her team that she was engaged in the room with them. She would ask for their input repetitively. She would try to bring in her introverts and her extroverts. But I realized what was missing was a whole new set of things that weren’t the traditional cues of empathy.

She would look down at her phone multiple times during meetings, multitasking, or signaling to her team that she wasn’t necessarily always paying attention, thinking that it was important to be responsive, not realizing that was impacting how her team felt valued. She would send one-liner emails that were brief and no context, thinking that she was responsive but actually had a major impact on her team not having a clear understanding of what they needed to do next.

Another thing she was doing was repetitively canceling meetings at the last minute, and her team would feel devalued. So, while Kelsey’s traditional body language was actually quite good around empathy, her digital body language was abysmal. So, we did a few things to really help solve some of these challenges. The first thing we did, and I’ll describe them as sort of three tenets of digital body language, is follow one of the first tenets, which is what I call reading messages carefully is the new listening.

Instead of rushing to respond to things, she took a second, thought before she typed, and would send all her messages to her team with clear response expectations, made sure that she could read it a second time for not only what she was thinking in her head but how others may interpret her messages, especially some of her junior employees.

The second thing that she did, which was critical, is she practiced the tenet that I call hold your horses, which means less haste equals more speed. So, she focused on not rewarding the fastest person to respond in her team meetings but the most thoughtful ideas. And the way that she did this was she started to send agendas before those meetings. She was more thoughtful instead of chronically canceling.

And she had said, “Before the meeting, I want you all to think about these questions.” And then, in the team meeting, she had everyone go around and share their responses. And now, in video calls, she had everyone share in the chat tool so that they weren’t turn-taking and then she would call on the people that had the most different ideas. This allowed her to avoid that culture of group think and create that thoughtfulness.

And then the last thing she did is she was more thoughtful about how her team could find their voice especially in different medium. She found that sometimes, while she was really good with introverts and extroverts face to face, sometimes in digital mediums, they needed more engagement. So, she had a rule where she said, “If you have an idea that isn’t in this meeting on Monday, I want you to send it to me on Friday.”

And what it would do was it would force her to think, it would force her to not just reward the quickest person to respond, and it would allow her introverts to actually bring their best ideas to the table. So, those are just some quick examples of how what we all knew what was implicit in traditional body language, now has to be explicit in our digital body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. So, there’s a lot of specifics right there in terms of do’s and don’ts to bear in mind. So, let’s zoom right in to some more of those in terms of what are some key do’s and don’ts that you see all the time and make a world of impact when we make an adjustment there?

Erica Dhawan
Let’s start with the do’s. The first do is value others visibly by valuing their time. Don’t chronically cancel, send agendas, be thoughtful of people’s time. The new art of respect is honoring people’s time, inboxes, and schedules. So, so much of this is really around watching the clock of starting meetings, ending meetings on time, acknowledging those differences, and showing that you recognize others and value their time and engagement with you. There’s so much hidden costs in the emails we send back and forth.

The second do is to communicate carefully. Take a moment to think before you type. Another story I’ll share is I once had a client who sent a message to his boss Tom that said, “Do you want to speak Wednesday or Thursday,” and Tom’s response was, “Yes.” Now, Tom was probably rushing, he thought it wouldn’t offend his colleague, but reading carefully is listening, and writing clearly is empathy, so communicate carefully.

The third do is collaborate with confidence and understand that confidence today is being consistent in your messages. You don’t want to create cultures where people have to chase you down, and being consistent. Even if you don’t have any answer but having a cadence for following up matters more than ever.

And the fourth do is trust others and assume positive intent. Especially in a digital body language world, there are cases where we get all caps emails, we’re feeling someone is shouting at us. Or those emojis that feel a bit passive-aggressive, stay in the place of reason, don’t get emotionally hijacked, and choose thoughtfulness, and giving others a benefit of the doubt.

Now let me give you three don’ts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I could just, because you said emojis, and that was on my list, so let’s just go there. So, emojis can come across as passive-aggressive. How do we think about emojis at work in terms of like, “Never use them,” or, “Use them freely,” or, “Use them only under these circumstances”? What’s your take?

Erica Dhawan
So, emojis are like our true body language facial expressions. And they do bring emotion, nuance, and tone to digital messages that are absent of the body language which makes up roughly 75% of nonverbal communication. I recommend using emojis carefully and knowing your audience when you’re using emojis.

Emojis can actually provide great benefit. They can showcase happiness. They can showcase gratitude with your team. The best way to decide when you should use emojis, how many you should use, how carefully you should use them, is by answering two questions. The first question is, “How much do you trust this person?” If there’s high trust, don’t be shy. Use your authenticity and maybe throw in that emoji. If there’s low trust, maybe be careful. First, mirror the other person’s formality, and then decide when might be that right moment to sprinkle in an emoji.

The second question to answer is, “How much of a power gap is between the two of you?” Is this a CEO who’s in their 60s and you’ve never met in person that you’re sending an email to, or is this a cousin or a friend? These simple things will help you decide power and trust levels whether to infuse that emotion or not. I would say that over the last year, we’ve seen a much higher degree of using the power of emojis and I really encourage it to show your authenticity, again, in places where there is high trust and little differentiation in power dynamics.

I’d also say that we’re seeing a lot more senior leaders throwing in those emojis or two, and I think that it can be really great to infuse a sense of emotion or connection. There are times where you’ll want to make sure you avoid them, sensitive periods where there’s difficulties, situations where…

Pete Mockaitis
“You’re firing 20,000 people…” yeah, I hear you. There’s sort of heavy gravitas elements that the emoji brings a lightness to, a lightness that ought not to be brought to that sort of thing. I wanted to ask, you talked about the power gap in the senior leaders. If you are the more senior person, does that kind of nudge you towards feeling more free to use emojis in communication with the junior folks as a means of making things seem lighter, freer, more open? Or, is it…? What’s your take there?

Erica Dhawan
I think that senior leaders have a great opportunity to sprinkle in that emoji or two to actually create connections. In my research, what I found is that we are all in different wavelengths of digital body language. On one end, there are digital natives, people that are very savvy in these tools, they grew up using emojis in high school, in college. And then digital adopters are the other category. These are people that are learning the new road of digital body language as we go. They never used an emoji for 20 years in workplace culture, and then they might start to try this, which feels like a big leap for them.

To give you a similar parallel example. My father is a digital adopter and I’m a digital native, and when my father sends me a text message, it starts with “Dear Erica,” and ends with “Love, Dad,” and I just scroll through it because it’s as long as a letter, and I haven’t quite taught him that a text is not a letter. But we have to understand that maybe some of our senior leaders are similar to my father. They’re new to these things.

And so, check your own bias. If you’re a leader, sprinkle in an emoji or two. It may actually bring more connection with your teams but know that there are some things that actually may go too far. One head of HR that I interviewed said that she remembers a moment when she changed her communications from an exclamation point to an emoji, and it was like a rite of passage, and it was a big deal. Whereas, for maybe a millennial or a Gen Z, it’s like a simple thing to use every day.

The other thing she learned though is she wrote adorbs, like adorable, but adorbs in an email with one of her millennial coworkers, she is a Gen Xer. And that millennial said, like, “I was uncomfortable with adorbs because you put it an email, and I feel like email is formal. And to you, email was actually more informal.” And so, not only do digital adopters and digital natives have different styles around when to use these punctuation or symbols, but even they have different norms around where to use them by channel.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, and it sounds like you’re sharing some really great principles here which are, in many ways, universal, but in some other ways individuals are going to have their own particular preferences, proclivities, nuances, and that’s just how they are. Like, that would not have even occurred to me. Like, “Email is a more formal channel. I prefer not to hear adorbs.” I guess I’m…how old am I again? I’m 37.

Erica Dhawan
You may be more of a digital native. And I find that it’s not just age-based. I know 50-year-olds that are digital natives at heart and 35-year-olds that want perfect punctuation in text messages. One fun fact is a research study showed that if you put a period at the end of a text, certain Americans will think you’re angry or passive-aggressive, other Americans will think you’re just using good grammar. And that’s just a very good example of how, similar to emojis, we are not all the same. We are all learning the brave new world of digital body language, so it’s important to check our bias to not read into things, and to really give others the benefit of the doubt.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk about not reading into things. We’re going to talk about the don’ts here, so let’s start with that one and maybe hear a few more don’ts. Let’s just say our brain just start to go, like, “Wow, what’s up with that text, or Slack, or email that just said, ‘Okay.’ Are they mad at me? Did I screw up? Do they think that I’m trying to undermine them?” So, anyway, our brains just make up these stories and they go running. How should we deal with the internal game when that pops up for us?

Erica Dhawan
So, with the lack of that tone and body language, if you get that message and you see that someone is on the verge of tears, you know that they have good intent but if you can’t see any of those cues, it’s easy to get lost in our minds, caught up in rumination or paranoia. So, here’s a couple things that you shouldn’t do when you get that message.

The first thing you should not do is you should not respond immediately with another passive-aggressive, not react with a more passive-aggressiveness. Instead, stay in the place of reason, sleep on it. I like to call it the pregnant email pause. Sleep on it overnight and come back to it when you’re not as emotionally hijacked. You’ll come back to it refreshed. If you want to write something back, maybe draft it, and then come back to it later.

Another thing that you can do is just pick up the phone. Don’t use email back and forth if it’s not really working for you anymore. Know when it’s important to pick up the phone. I like to say a phone call is worth a thousand emails and there are certain cases where it matters more than ever to do that. That’s the first big don’t.

Pete Mockaitis
And to that point about the phone call, I think that that’s so…it is so powerful and it can be worth a thousand emails in the sense of kind of upstream and downstream in terms of positive or negative. And like when you call, and you say, “Hey, we said okay. I was wondering if maybe we’re thinking X, Y, Z.” And then maybe that can open up a really important emotional conversation, like, “You know, I’m sorry. I’m really stressed about these things. You’re doing a really great job. I’ve been really short with people.” And then you just really strengthen that relationship because you were able to go there. Or you can just have a quick laugh, like, “Oh, no. No, I didn’t mean that at all. No, that’s funny. We’re all good.”

Erica Dhawan
Yeah, someone is trying to be funny and it didn’t go well online.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s like that, even if there’s nothing there, taking the time to make the phone call can just go miles in terms of enriching that relationship, so I love it.

Erica Dhawan
That’s absolutely right.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Erica Dhawan
And digital body language is just as much about knowing when to have the video call, the phone call, the live meeting, the email, or the IM, or the text as it is, what we say in each of those mediums. I like to say the choice of communication medium is like the new measure of priority, complexity, and urgency. If it’s really urgent, know when to send a text or make that quick call versus an email. If it’s high complex, it’s very important to know when to have that video call with nuance, with SlideShare, or send a detailed email. And if you’re familiar with this person, knowing when you can just pick up the phone versus sending the long email, or where you have to work with their assistant to schedule something on a calendar.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Great. Thank you. Let’s hear some more don’ts now.

Erica Dhawan
Don’t multitask. Multitasking is rampant right now. We are all feeling not only Zoom gloom but constant fatigue, endless emails. What I really recommend to avoid this just endless feeling, like we’re constantly in meetings, and we have to multitask to just get through the day, is initiate what I call the Zoom BCC just as much as we do the email BCC.

If you’re in a lot of meetings, if they could be shorter meetings, first have less meetings. Instead of making them 30 minutes, make them 25 minutes, then you’ll see you can make them 20 minutes. And then if you have a lot of people on there that don’t need to be on there anymore, initiate a BCC rule on Zoom where you can loop people out just like we do on email. This will really avoid multitasking and really get individuals engaged.

If you’re in a meeting where you feel like you want to multitask because you’re not being engaged, start the meeting with, “What’s the agenda here and how can I help?” Be proactive to make sure that you’re valued, otherwise you don’t need to be there, versus feeling a fear or guilt. And if you’re the host of that meeting, always start with, “Here’s what’s success looks like. Here’s why I need all of your input. And if we’re able to get through this in 15 minutes, then we’ll end 10 minutes early.” Simple things like that will quickly avoid multitasking which is, as we all know, is pretty rampant.

The last thing I think is important is just don’t constantly be in a rush. We are living in a world where rush responses are often prioritized, as I said earlier, over thoughtfulness. Take the moment to really reflect on, “What is a working session that really needs group thinking versus group think?” instead of just saying, “We need to talk next Tuesday because that’s the next opening on our calendar.”

We are not robots and we can’t live or adhere to what our Outlook or our Gmail calendar is saying. We need to think about what will best serve the task at hand, and how we as humans need to process ideas and think through things before we actually jump from meeting to meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
And, in practice, if I want to implement this Zoom BCC action, how would I go about pulling that off?

Erica Dhawan
One of the best ways you can initiate the Zoom BCC is have a rule in the chat box on a video call when individuals do not need to engage anymore or they filled their part of the meeting, just write, “BCC: Sam, John, and Mary,” and then they have the liberty to BCC out of the meeting. That’s just a simple way to do it. I love the power of the video call chat tools because you’re avoiding turn-taking and allowing individuals to engage all at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, just for any listeners who aren’t quite picking up what we’re putting down and intricate for my understanding. Erica, when you say BCC, it’s much like when in an email we perhaps move the person who introduced us, like Dorie Clark introduced us, thanks, Dorie, we move them to BCC such that they are not privy to all of the back-and-forth subsequent emails about scheduling or whatever that we’re doing. And so, we’re using that as a shorthand then within the Zoom chat to say, “Hey, thanks for that which you have contributed. If you would like to exit now, you’re free to do so.”

Erica Dhawan
Exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And so, it’s kind of nice as a cultural shorthand, they’d say, “Oh, okay. Got it.” Just like, “That happens in email, that’s what’s happening now, and I appreciate you respecting my time, Erica, and giving that back to me and I’m going to go do my thing.” Or they might say, “No, actually, this is riveting stuff and I really want to see what happens and I’m excited to contribute a few more ideas,” then, by all means, you stick around and it’s all good.

Erica Dhawan
Absolutely. And I think that’s the opportunity here. What we’re often finding is what happens when people don’t feel like they’re contributing anymore, they start multitasking on the call, and then people see that, and then other people multitask, and it just creates a disengaged scenario. And so, really being thoughtful about this can go a long way.

And, again, we are living in the wild, wild west of how we innovate around digital body language, so use your own creativity. With some of my clients who have read the book Digital Body Language and we’ve run workshops we’ve initiated email acronyms. For example, on subject lines, leaders are using 2H which means “I need this in two hours,” or, 4D which means, “I need this in four days” so that person doesn’t feel that like they have to rush; they have four days to actually think about it and then come up with the best product.

Another example of an email is one of my favorite acronyms NNTR which means “No need to respond.” That simple email acronym can avoid 15 thank you emails or okay emails. And this is not trivial, it’s actually valuing other’s time right now. Another one of my favorites is ROM which means “Respond on Monday,” especially if you’re a senior leader who’s sending an email on a Sunday, you don’t want to blast your team member’s weekend. Let them know ROM that they can respond on Monday. That can go a long way not only for you to get better ideas from them but foster wellbeing.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, yeah. And it’s just very clear because it’s ambiguous, they say, “This doesn’t seem super urgent but then, again, why are you sending it to me on a Saturday or a Sunday? And maybe you just had a good creative spark or maybe it is urgent and I can’t quite tell even if I’ve spent that couple minutes trying to figure out if it is or not urgent by reading between the lines.” It’d be great just to have that clarity at first, like, “Oh, I don’t even need to open this subject line that’s tantalizing me because see that acronym. That’s great.” Thank you.

When it comes to multitasking, I just want to get your take about how you say we see other people multitasking on like a Zoom call, and then that just sort of brings down the energy and the commitment focus level from others.

And I think what’s funny, I think most of us notice but some of us don’t apparently, which is that we can tell when you’re multitasking because we can hear the clicking, or if you’re in a Mac or something, like the “thunk, thunk, thunk” trackpad clicks, or see your eyeballs they’re like reading texts elsewhere kind of on the screen as opposed to listening to the person. And so, even with the mutes or whatever, there are many ways it becomes clear that you’re multitasking. So, public announcement there, we know you’re multitasking. So, that’s there if you didn’t already know that.

Can you tell me what are some of the other telltale signs of that? And how does that bring down the energy of the group?

Erica Dhawan
I think that your example was brilliant. It is obvious when individuals are multitasking versus when they’re actually engaging in a conversation. And if you just write even just like, “Oh, I agree” in a chat, it’s kind of like, “Okay, are you really listening?” versus sending something thoughtful around what was just said that will proactively contribute to the conversation and adds to it.

I want to answer this in a few ways. First, I’ll answer “What are some of the common cues of multitasking?” but then I want to answer, “If you are the meeting host, how do you avoid this from happening from those attending your meeting?”

So, common cues of multitasking, people are just not on video even though that you asked for people to be on video, or most of the people are on video. I think that there are reasons people aren’t on video, but if it is a meeting where everyone else is on video, take a second to think about the fact that other people may think you’re multitasking even if you’re not.

Another cue is just never looking into the camera at all and always looking down or somewhere else. A research study showed that making eye contact happens about 30% to 60% when we’re face to face. In body language, we want to actually, when we’re speaking, look into the camera about 60% to 70% of the time. Even though we can’t see everyone, they can feel a connection with us, so it does really help. The third is being someone who, when you’re called on, is sort of like, “Oh, what do we need again?” or, “Can you say this again?” Those are great examples of just the multitasking phenomenon that is existing.

So, how do you overcome some of these challenges if you’re a meeting host? Number one, before the meeting, I like to say the meeting calendar invite is like the new first impression. It sets the agenda for how people will behave in your meeting. So, in that meeting invite, have a clear meeting title, have an agenda, write in there some norms, “We’d like to have everyone on video. If you can’t join on video, let me know beforehand that you can’t.” Like, instead of creating the opt-in, create the opt-out of, “Here are the norms,” and people are automatically engaged more.

In your agenda, identify ways where you can actually solicit other individuals to lead parts of the meeting or to be prepared to speak around specific questions that you want them to discuss. Then, at the beginning of your meeting, when everyone is on, actually start with, “Here’s the agenda. I’m going to call on people randomly.” Encourage that. Just like we did in an office. Like, we don’t have to be polite. This is how we meet. And simple things like that will change behavior as well as using the chat tools, say, “I’d like everyone, as we’re discussing this, to share their responses in the chat. We’re going to wait till everyone shares in the chat. And then I’ll call on people that have different perspectives.”

And this is a great way as well for people to just pay attention and make sure that you’re truly soliciting that input from everyone. So, those are just some examples. Again, it’s not going to be perfect, but knowing how to engage the group thoughtfully and then knowing when to Zoom BCC them out, because otherwise it will create multitasking, can go a long way and just having great, good body language.

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

Erica Dhawan
My new book Digital Body Language is out May 11th. If you want access to some tools around it, if you go to EricaDhawan.com/digitalbodylanguage, I have a digital body language quiz that will help you assess yourself on some of the categories I talked about: valuing others visibly, communicating carefully. It’s free for anyone. And I hope you’ll check it out, take it with your teams, and understand whether you’re a digital native or a digital adapter. 

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

Erica Dhawan
My favorite quote is from Maya Angelou, and I’ll share it with you, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And what I find so inspiring about that is that this is a moment that we can help others feel heard, respected, and understood with digital body language.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now could you share a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Erica Dhawan
I recently ran a study of 2,000 office workers, and one of the greatest insights I found from the study was that the average office worker cited that they were wasting four hours a week on poor, unclear, and confusing digital communication. If we equate that up to the US GDP alone, that is $889 billion in wasted salary alone.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Erica Dhawan
My favorite book, most recently, I have many, is Choose Yourself by James Altucher.

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

Erica Dhawan
My favorite tool is the Calm app. I really believe in the power of meditation and connecting not only with our minds but our bodies. And I use it every single morning for a quick meditation, and every afternoon for a five-minute meditation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Erica Dhawan
Yeah, my favorite habit is to wake up every morning and have a big glass of water with a Nuun tablet. Hydration is everything. It has changed my life. And if you are not drinking eight glasses of water, go for it and you will see immense results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, hydration is actually one of my hobby horses, I guess, so you said it was transformational. Explain.

Erica Dhawan
I was constantly tired for most of my life throughout the day. I’ve been addicted to coffees, teas, chocolates in the afternoon, and after I became a mom of two kids, I have two kids under three years old, I realized that this could not be fixed with caffeine. Caffeine is just another addiction and I needed to change my habits. And so, I started to experiment with lots of different things, but the one that has really worked is just drinking more water. And I found that I don’t love to just drink glasses of water, but I started to use electrolyte tablets, like Nuun and others, and just that simple dose of not feel like water, warm water, but a little more fun goes a long way in helping me hydrate, keep my energy up throughout the day.

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

Erica Dhawan
In terms of all of my work, I think one of the most important nuggets that has connected most was the quote I shared earlier, “Reading messages carefully is the new listening, and writing clearly is the new empathy.” We are living in a new world of how we connect and build trust. And, as I shared earlier, I think what was implicit from body language now has to be explicit in digital body language. And I think that taking the extra steps to truly show empathy and care with simple actions like these go a long way in connecting.

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

Erica Dhawan
Folks can learn more on my website at EricaDhawan.com, or my book website EricaDhawan.com/digitalbodylanguage, or you can just check out my Amazon page and find my books there.

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

Erica Dhawan
To be awesome at your job, it’s critical to get comfortable being uncomfortable, to be willing to ask for help, say what you know, what you don’t know, and be vulnerable, because when you are vulnerable, you’ll create the safe space to allow others to speak up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Erica, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck with the book and your digital body language and your many other adventures.

Erica Dhawan
Thank you so much.

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

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About David

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

David Nihill Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Something falls out of a window to their…

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

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

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

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

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

David Nihill
Yeah. Sorry, got excited there.

Pete Mockaitis
No, bring it more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
With his sister.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite study?

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

David Nihill
Thank you very much.

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

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Davina Stanley says: "Think first."

Davina Stanley shares expert strategies for communicating with greater clarity.

You’ll Learn:

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

About Davina:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Divina Stanley Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Make sure he doesn’t listen.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Potato chips and donuts.

Davina Stanley
Jam donuts.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Consulting consultants on how to consult.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davina Stanley
How would I define them?

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Davina Stanley
How’s that sound?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Davina Stanley
A favorite tool? PowerPoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

Davina Stanley
My website is ClarityFirstProgram.com.

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

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

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

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

536: How to Listen and Be Heard with Julian Treasure

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Julian:

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

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

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

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you Sponsors!

Julian Treasure Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That makes sense.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Huh.

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, it’s beautiful.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, dear.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Julian Treasure
It just doesn’t happen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Julian Treasure
Yeah, indeed.

Pete Mockaitis
I work them hard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Definitely, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed, yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, indeed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Hee, hee.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And timber?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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