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403: Hollywood Secrets for Effective Business Storytelling with Matthew Luhn

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Matthew Luhn says: "The people who have mastered storytelling in business are the ones who lead their industries."

Movie story consultant Matthew Luhn shares the key principles and approaches for making compelling, emotionally-resonant stories–even if you’ve got a “boring” work topic.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two story elements that keep an audience hooked
  2. The three key flavors of emotion
  3. The universal six story themes

About Matthew

Matthew Luhn is a writer, story branding consultant, and keynote speaker with over 25 years’ experience at Pixar Animation Studios, with story credits including the Toy Story and Monsters, Inc. franchises, Finding Nemo, UP, Cars, and Ratatouille. Alongside his work in Hollywood, Luhn trains CEOs, marketing teams, directors, and professionals on how to craft stories for Fortune 500 companies, Academy Award-winning movies, and corporate brands grossing billions of dollars worldwide, advice he’s packed into his new book, The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond. To learn more, visit matthewluhnstory.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Matthew Luhn Interview Transcript

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

Matthew Luhn
My pleasure. I’m always happy to help people be awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we were having an awesome preamble conversation about you were an animator on Toy Story and I mentioned I had saw it all the way through for the first time just recently. That was fun. But toys are a part of your life, not just that you played with them as a youngster, but that you were in toy catalogues and your family had a toy business. Can you orient us to the early part of the Matthew story?

Matthew Luhn
Yes. Everybody I guess when you start off when you’re a kid you think my life is pretty normal. My parents are teachers or dentists or whatever. But my family, yeah, everybody in my family from my grandparents to my great-grandparents to uncles and aunts and mom and dad, they all owned toy stores. We had the largest family-owned chain of toy stores, Jeffrey’s Toys in San Francisco.

Actually, the only guy who didn’t get sucked into the toy stores was the guy that the toy stores were named after, Jeffrey, my uncle. He ended up becoming a photographer, but even though he was a photographer, he didn’t get far away from toys because he ended up being one of those guys responsible during the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s of taking the photos for all those toy catalogues.

Whenever he needed some cheap child labor, he’d say, “Matthew, come on in with your friend. We’ll give you the toy and we just want you to play with these A-Team toys or this Inspector Gadget toy.” Lo and behold, by the time I’m in high school, I go, “Wait a minute, what were those photos ever used for?” And yeah. You can always find them online. But my life has really had a lot to do with toys.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well this is a rich backdrop because I think we are going to have a lot of fun in a toy play kind of a way. That’s a forced segue. That’s a signature part of the show.

Matthew Luhn
Sounds good.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to hear, you worked as a story supervisor and you have described that job as your responsibility is to make people cry, which I think is pretty succinct way to point to it in terms of having people feel things. I’d love to get your take on when you are supervising stories, what kinds of adjustments do you find yourself making again and again that most of our stories could use improvements in these kind of key ways that show up repeatedly?

Matthew Luhn
Sure. First off, yes, my job is to make people cry, but I also want to put it out there that also to keep them sitting on the edge of their seats during action scenes and then make them laugh and at the end make them really think and be inspired.

It’s funny that no matter how many movies I’ve worked on, and you think to yourself, “Oh, we’ve got it figured out this time. No problem. This one’s going to be easy. It’s Toy Story 3. We’ve done the first and the second.” It’s never easy. There’s always a new set of problems. It’s funny how it always goes back to two things over and over again. It makes no difference if it’s a film, a TV show, a play, a book, whatever.

It always goes back to who is the hero and what do they want. I know it sounds so simple. It sounds like duh, but so many times people put together a story and you really can’t tell who is the main character or what their vision is, their goal in the story. It constantly goes back to that.

Sometimes people when they’re crafting a story, they’ll have a hero, main character, but the main character will have multiple goals. Then we as the audience just get distracted. We don’t know what to root for them for. Or they have no goals and we lose interest. Or the story just lacks a central character. It’s so silly, but it happens to the best of us. That’s the thing that keeps showing up again and again.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating. I’m trying to think, I guess maybe we don’t want to name names in terms of here’s a story that sucked.

Matthew Luhn
Oh yeah, yeah. I know.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t want to put you on the spot there.

Matthew Luhn
Sure, sure.

Pete Mockaitis
But I think sometimes I guess I find that maybe we’ve got a clear leading hero and maybe it’s clear what they want, but I just don’t care about them and what they want. I guess I think that that goal’s kind of dumb or not worthwhile.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah. I think one of the things – it’s a tricky thing because when you are creating a story, there’s really three things that motivate you as a creative person, as a writer, a storyteller. One is deadlines. The other one is usually desperation. Then the other one that really inspires you to come up with some ideas is daydreaming.

When we daydream we think about moments from our own lives that would make good stories or something we heard or saw or experienced. The tricky thing is sometimes those ideas may be too abstract. They may only connect with a few people.

But really, if you want to be able to create a story that connects with as many people as possible, you need to come up with universal themes that have been showing up in everybody’s life, no matter what age or gender or culture, like the desire to be in love. It’s universal. The desire for safety and security for yourself and people you love. Or not to be abandoned, to feel belonged. These are all universal themes.

Whenever you’re watching a story and you’re like, “Eh, I can’t really get behind this character,” that’s probably the first reason is that their goal is not universal. The next thing is that even if you have a character that is so dastardly, like Walter White from Breaking Bad

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, my favorite.

Matthew Luhn
Or Anakin. Even if the character is really not a nice person, you still need to make sure that the audience either has empathy for them or there’s something likeable about them. You’ll see time and again that even with the most dastardly characters, they’ll always have somebody they care about, like Walter White, he still cares about his kids and his wife. Then there’s empathy because you know the situation he’s in.

There are steps to be able to make your character likeable and to make sure that the goal that they have is universal. That’s what you need to do to make sure that the audience isn’t like, “Eh, I could care less. I’m going to switch the channel.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. We’re talking about some of the components that make a story great and your book is called The Best Story Wins: How to Leverage Hollywood Storytelling in Business and Beyond. Let’s talk about leveraging it in a business or professional context.

Most of us will not be in the position of writing a TV or movie or a novel. Some have, which is awesome. Thanks listeners for sending me your novels. But if we want to do some storytelling in business, how do we do that? It might seem like tales of product innovation or profit and loss are not maybe as compelling as, Walter White could die.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah, you’re putting me to sleep right now talking about that stuff. Well, really when we go back to really one of the first people, first person who talked about the story, it was Aristotle in his Poetics books. One of the things he pointed out was that the person who is able to really master the metaphor is a very powerful person.

A metaphor is basically when you can take something that’s dry and analytical like profit and loss, but you can share a story that maybe is not business related. Maybe it’s something that happened to you when you were ten years old, but the takeaway message at the end communicates the feeling of the message of teamwork or the power of innovation.

There’s a couple of different ways you can use storytelling in business. Really, yes, telling the story around your company, the founder, that’s kind of like a no-brainer. Telling the story around your products through the eyes of the consumer, the customer, the guest through endorsements and testimonials, that’s a good one.

But the next one is how you use those metaphors to be able to enlighten people, to be able to help kind of complicated or dry information be more memorable and impactful internally or externally at your company or beyond.

Then also the most important way you can use storytelling is to be able to paint a picture for the listener, for that potential client of what their story could be like, what their company could be like, what their life could be like if they engaged with you or used your product or service. Really, we’ve seen from Steve Jobs to Walt Disney that the people who have mastered story telling in business are the ones who lead their industries. It happens over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. So telling the story of what your life would be like if you used the product. I think you had a really nice example in your TEDx talk. There was a Mercedes commercial about a teenage boy, maybe 13, 14, 15, on his first. I guess the story was just that, hey, this Mercedes is reliable in snow, but we had a whole lot of drama behind it because he’s going to the movies. We’ll link to that in the show notes.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah, he’s going on his first date and is she going to show up because it’s completely snowed out. Instead of watching another boring car commercial where the narrator is talking about the performance in bad weather, we actually see the car weather the storm, get him to the movie theatre and I won’t blow it because you should watch it because there’s elements of tension in there, but it goes back to that universal theme of wanting to be in love.

Everybody can connect with that. Everybody has been at some point – when you’re born, you want to be loved. They were able to use that universal theme to be able to show – and showing is always better than telling – how effective their product, their service is. We have a main character with a goal. There’s a tool that helps them reach their goal. That’s what it’s all about in business.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Then I’d love to hear then, it sounds like you’ve already gotten a lot of components here, but maybe just to make sure we’re being thorough, are there any other key components that make the best story, which wins, in fact the best?

Matthew Luhn
Sure. I think the next thing that I try to encourage people about is that when you watch a movie, the movies that truly impact you and you love, the top movies that are out there, books, plays, everything, they’re not ones where everything is happy from beginning to end or everything is sad from beginning to end. We love stories that go back and forth between happy and sad.

When we end up using storytelling for business, there’s this tendency where we want everybody to think our company is perfect, we are perfect, our products are perfect. We have never made any mistakes at our company. We are the number one dot, dot, dot in our industry. First off, it’s not real. Second off, it’s really boring. What people love in a story is obstacles.

We love a hero that has a goal. You could be your company that has a goal. Your consumer or customer that has a goal. But the obstacles is what – I guess you would say in the business world is like the research and development. What went into making that product? Share with us when it blew up, share with us when the company almost went bankrupt because it keeps you sitting on the edge of your seat because you want to know what happened.

We love a hero with a goal, with a set of obstacles. Then the most important thing is a transformation, how this product/service has transformed people’s lives, how a pair of shoes or a computer or a car can make people healthier or happier or wealthier, have more time with their family and friends. This transformation is really it’s the climax. It’s the grand finale of what you want to succeed at.

You can tell a great story in business, but if it doesn’t drive anyone to action, it was pointless. That’s the transformation part.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Boy, this is awesome because as you’re speaking it’s just really catching all sorts of things. My favorite movie is Life Is Beautiful with Roberto Benigni.

Matthew Luhn
Oh right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Boy, we’ve got some happiness and some sadness in there.

Matthew Luhn
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m tearing it up just thinking about it. Then that connects for me – it’s about me for a moment, Matthew. If you’ll-

Matthew Luhn
Sure, sure. It’s always about us.

Pete Mockaitis
If you’ll indulge me.

Matthew Luhn
The funny thing is, I’ll tell you right now, the reason why we love heroes in stories and that we always have a hero in a story is because we all see our human psyche as that we are heroes on a journey.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Matthew Luhn
That’s why we do that. Also, I just want to point out that the reason why you do cry in a movie or you have tears of joy is because when you juxtapose a happy moment and a sad moment successfully in a film or in anything, the release from dopamine to oxytocin – dopamine is kind of the happy chemical, oxytocin is more of the somber chemical – when you put those right next to each other, the chemicals change so quickly, so you could be laughing one moment and then you discover something sad and it will tear you apart.

There’s kind of a science to storytelling that these chemicals get released from dopamine, oxytocin and then endorphins to make you laugh.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s kind of what you’re going for in a great story is that you’re going to share some things that trigger the happy, trigger the sad, and trigger the laugh.

Matthew Luhn
Absolutely. The way I always see it is, it’s kind of like these three choices that you can get of different ice cream. It’s like the funny moments, the emotional moments, or kind of this anticipation/action moments. Really when you think about it, that breaks down all the movies. It’s either funny, emotional – kind of like heartfelt – or action. When you can make a film that kind of blends all of those, like Toy Story did, you really put together a compelling piece of storytelling.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. I’m also thinking about even just a gum commercial. They played a song that we played at our wedding, which was the Haley Reinhart version of I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You with this gum. It showed this guy drew doodles on the gum wrappers. We’ll link to it in the show notes.

Matthew Luhn
Okay, cool. I was hoping you weren’t going to say you played the Double Mint song …, but this is better.

Pete Mockaitis
It was so touching at our wedding.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
There we have it. It’s like the product that he’s doodling on these gum wrappers is sort of having a transformation in their life because we kind of see the relationship unfolding.

Similarly to, I’m thinking about the Google – I’m linking to all of these – the Google commercials that’s really emotionally powerful where it starts with how to impress a French or Italian girl, how to speak Italian or French. Then it goes all the way – geez, I’m a crybaby today – it goes all the way to – I don’t want to spoil it, but their relationship also develops in a touching way.

Linking to the show notes all of these things. You’re really connecting the dots for me in terms of why is this effective. It’s like, I don’t know. I guess I’m a softy.

Matthew Luhn
This is the thing. This is what people listening to this should think about. Just like you’re recalling all of these commercials or movies, you’re recalling them because you remembered them. Storytelling does make things more memorable.

The truth is that when you just share information, people only retain a very small amount. They say ten minutes later, you only retain five percent of the information. But if you can wrap a story around it, even a piece of gum or a car, people are going to retain so much more. They’re going to remember it and it’s going to make them feel something. It’s going to impact them. Then the last thing, it’s going to be personal. All of the sudden, you’re playing a gum commercial at your wedding.

This is what great marketers, great salespeople, great branding teams do. They’re the ones who see that storytelling is not just for entertainment.

I always knew I wanted to write a book on storytelling, but there’s so many books on storytelling out there that I almost felt like I just don’t want to waste my time or the audience’s time writing a book that they can already get.

One of the things that I saw that the world needed was a book that shared actually the Pixar storytelling techniques that could be used for business. A lot of those business books out there on storytelling are not written by people who are necessarily film writers. The actual techniques and tools that I have in the book are ones that we would use at work. But instead of you inserting a car or a bug or a rat, you can insert your product or your founder or you can better yet, that customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well, you had a couple teaser fascination bullets in your book that I can’t resist. Let’s touch on a couple of them.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s see. You shared with us a few universal story themes, but you mentioned six. Did we tick off all six?

Matthew Luhn
Oh gosh, I’m not sure if I did. Let’s see. There’s love. There’s safety and security. There is wanting to be free and be spontaneous. Just think about in the movie Brave, she’s been set up to get married and become the queen. She just wants to be like an adventurer.

Then the next three are ones that are kind of based on fear. Those first are like desires. The next ones are fears, like the fear of not belonging, the fear of abandonment. You guys are going to have to read the book. I’m getting stumped on the sixth one right now. It’ll come to me in a second. But these are – they really, they just keep showing up again and again.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, I’d love to get your take in terms of at the very beginning, how do we hook attention well?

Matthew Luhn
Well, this is not anything new. It just seems like it’s even harder today, which is how to be able to hook someone’s attention. I think we know that when you – say you want to do a pitch for a product or a movie or you’re just trying to start up a conversation with somebody, people have very limited attention spans. They’re about eight seconds I think is the human attention span.

How do you engage people to want to continue listening about your company or what your product or service does? When I am putting together a hook on a movie poster or a trailer or I’m going to do the pitch for a film, I’ve got to make sure that first off, it’s not too long. It needs to be clear and concise. I really try to make sure that my pitch is not longer than eight seconds.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Matthew Luhn
Really.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re going to have to give me a few examples. Wow, eight seconds. Is that even a sentence?

Matthew Luhn
Here. You’ll count it out in your head. What about, “What if superheroes were banned from saving people?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay.

Matthew Luhn
You’re kind of intrigued because you’re like, “I know superheroes save people, so why would they be banned from saving people?” That’s The Incredibles. Or could you have one that is “What if a rat wanted to be a French chef?”

Now those are films, so you could say to yourself, “Well, Matthew, those are films, so you’re cheating.” “What if you could put a thousand songs in your pocket?” That was the pitch Steve made for the iPod. “What if you could put a thousand songs in your pocket?”

What’s going on here is that when you have a hook, you have really four options. You can either come up with something unusual that takes the ordinary world and shares how it could be different, that superheroes that are not allowed to save people. You’re not going to have to use a Walkman with 14 songs on a cassette tape. You can actually put a thousand songs in your pocket.

Or the second one is something unexpected, the shock value. “What if a rat was a French chef?” Then the other two is landing people in an action or conflict, like when you’re clicking through channels on TV and you see the good guys chasing the bad guys. You want to know if they’re going to get the bad guys, so you keep watching. Or landing people into a conflict, like seeing two people in a kind of very intense conversation. You can’t stop watching.

These types of things are great ways to create hooks. I always suggest keep it within eight seconds. It’s always helpful to start with a ‘what if’. Don’t make it too abstract that people don’t know what it’s about, but the same time don’t get too wordy and start repeating yourself too much because people are going to get bored. That’s what I do for a hook.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, with those ‘what if’s,’ do all of your pitches start with ‘what if’s’ or are there any other formats that they occur?

Matthew Luhn
When I’m creating and I start with a ‘what if,’ but then, I start to use whatever words feel most natural. But there’s something about starting with a question that pulls people in. It entices people to want to know what’s the answer. That’s probably why.

Maybe you don’t have to start with a ‘what.’ You can start with a ‘why.’ Why is that if you want to get from Point A to Point B, you have to get in a stinky taxi that charges too much and they’re rude to you? What if there was another option? That could be Uber or Lyft.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, got you.

Matthew Luhn
That’s what I think about when I’m creating a hook.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Could you maybe give us an example of bringing some of this to life with regard to a client? It’s like, all right, they’ve got a proposal for a product or a business or a service or a process or a story to share with the investors, the customers, their employees about something that might seem boring in the realm of business, but suddenly just came to life with a thrilling story?

Matthew Luhn
You think about – I would say data and analytics. That’s sounds pretty wordy, a little dry. I think a lot of companies, they know that collecting data and having good information on people, it’s beneficial because you’re going to be able to help people be able to get what they need more effectively.

When I come into companies to be able to help them tell stories that are connected to data and analytics, I have them go back to what is the takeaway for your service or product. The whole takeaway is the more you know about people, the better you’re going to be able to help them.

Then you can think about moments in your life where somebody got you a birthday gift or it’s your birthday at work and they get you the cake. You’re allergic to dairy. You can’t eat gluten. They got you a big chocolate cake. Obviously, if they would have really taken the time to know you as a person, they wouldn’t have been giving you something that you didn’t want or couldn’t even eat.

That’s really I think the way it’s like in our world of advertising. We get bombarded with so many ads that have nothing to do with us. It’s like recently, I have no idea why, I’m getting all these dental implant ads that are being sent my way. I have perfect teeth. It’s kind of making me mad.

If somebody actually did their data and really knew what was important to me, they wouldn’t be wasting my time and getting me angry at them. They would be sending me products and services that actually would make my life better. I always think about what is the end takeaway for that product or service. Then I try to think about stories that will fit and have a similar takeaway. It’s like a metaphor.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
Sure.

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

Matthew Luhn
I’m okay. I’m ready to shift gears.

Pete Mockaitis
All right then. Could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Matthew Luhn
Oh my gosh. Okay. Do I have to quote it correctly?

Pete Mockaitis
Roughly correctly. There’s some leeway.

Matthew Luhn
All right. I always loved this quote that Alfred Hitchcock has. I think he was asked “What makes a great story?” He said, “Great stories are based on life, but with the boring parts removed.” That always sticks in my head because so many times we think that I’m going to create this story about this thing that happened to me in my life. You know what? People probably don’t want to hear all the details, just get to the good stuff. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
My pleasure.

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

Matthew Luhn
Oh my. Well, you know what I would say is that one of the bonuses of working on a movie, especially a Pixar movie, is that they will actually pay for you to research on the movie. You’re working on Finding Nemo, so you go to Great Barrier Reef in Australia or you go on Route 66 on Cars.

Actually, that was probably the most memorable one for me because I didn’t want to go on Route 66. It was for two weeks. It was going to be the middle of the summer. This is before having a smartphone. It turned out to be the best experience. The people we actually met on Route 66 were the characters that we put in the movie, like Mater and Sally and Doc. Those were based off of people we actually met through just getting to know the people on Route 66.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Thank you.

Matthew Luhn
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Matthew Luhn
Oh gosh, that’s a hard question, man. I think I would have to go and ask myself which book have I read over the most again and again. I don’t know man. I’ve read Watership Down a lot. I do love that book. Then also I would have to say I am a John Steinbeck fan, so I have read Great Expectations a couple times.

I’m just also a really big Roald Dahl fan. I think if I could come back as a writer, it would be Roald Dahl. I would say that I have probably read his books to my kids so many times from The Twits to James and the Giant Peach to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, all those. I know that’s a lot of answers there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no, I appreciate it.

Matthew Luhn
The audience can pick and choose which ones they like.

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

Matthew Luhn
Oh, a favorite tool. I would say that the tool is not necessarily a pencil or a computer. I think the tool is actually improv, if that counts.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Matthew Luhn
Because when I get stuck coming up with a story, the thing that helps me get out of that rut is kind of chilling out, try not to think too much and kind of letting your subconscious take over for a little bit. Improv is the best way of doing it because you’re kind of given a location, a subject, who you are, go with it and you just start making it up as you go along.

It’s a great way for me to just kind of get out of that analyzing things too much. I think that’s probably one of the enemies of art is thinking too much. I know it sounds so silly, but whenever you’re able to just kind of go into the basement of your mind or our soul and really start finding the truth and the things that scare you to use in your stories. They’re honest. A lot of times we don’t want to go down in the basement to find those things, but improv helps me to be able to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a favorite habit?

Matthew Luhn
A favorite habit? I would say that one of my favorite habits is probably riding my bike. I was also going to say dancing, but once you start to have a certain number of kids, it’s hard to go out dancing with your wife anymore. But those were nice habits. We used to do those, go out at least once a month. We’ve got to start doing that again sometime, but yeah. Those habits always have something to do with kind of getting the heart beating, moving around, having fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Matthew Luhn
Get the endorphins up.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite nugget, something you share that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and clients?

Matthew Luhn
I think one thing I share with people especially when I’m working with a group of people or business who are thinking to themselves, “Okay, great. This guy has shared a lot of great stuff about storytelling. He’s worked in the movies, sure. But I’m not a storyteller. I’m not a screenwriter.” They just kind of already shut down.

The thing I always share with them is that when you have a chicken who’s only lived in a cage their entire life, they know nothing but living in that cage. Actually, if you open up that cage door and you let them run out for the first time, they’ll run around, they’ll peck at things, and eventually they’re just going to go back into the cage. Even though the door is open, they’re just going to stay in there.

The only way that you can actually inspire that chicken to stay out permanently is you put out little morsels of food, a couple inches apart, leading them out of the cage to be able to get them used to not being in that cage anymore. It’s baby steps. Really it takes practicing telling those short stories around your life that could be personal or professional and reminding yourself that we were all storytellers once. It just takes a little bit of practice to get you back into that place again.

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

Matthew Luhn
Well, I’d love to share some fun story tidbits on Twitter. You can always find me there.

I would say that one of the guys that I love to go back to time and time again is Joseph Campbell. He wrote a book called The Hero with A Thousand Faces. He also did this interview called The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth interviews are actually on Netflix. You could always pick up one of his books.

He was one of the original guys who really started thinking about how storytelling connects all of us on this planet no matter what culture, gender, age. It’s a very inspiring guy. I would say that would be some good things to go check out.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Matthew, this has been a ton of fun. I wish you lots of luck and inspiration as you do your thing.

Matthew Luhn
Hey, my pleasure. I want to also to encourage you now that you’ve watched Toy Story, there’s two more, just in case.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Matthew Luhn
There’s Toy Story 2 and 3 because you’ve got to get them watched before Toy Story 4 is coming out, man.

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t think I was aware that was happening.

Matthew Luhn
It is. You have until June. Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Straight from the horse’s mouth.

Matthew Luhn
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you work on Toy Story 4?

Matthew Luhn
I did work on that in the very beginning.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool.

Matthew Luhn
I would say also for Toy Story 2 and 3, definitely bring some tissues. Okay?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Matthew Luhn
You’re going to need it.

Pete Mockaitis
Appreciate it.

Matthew Luhn
Okay.

358: Solving the Five Problems of Virtual Communication with Dr. Nick Morgan

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Dr. Nick Morgan says: "We need to put... care for each other's emotions and reactions... back into virtual communication."

Communication expert Dr. Nick Morgan describes how the five problems of virtual communication have made the world angrier over the last decade, and what to do about it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The magic question that bridges much of the virtual gap
  2. How bad online behavior is leaking into face-to-face communication
  3. How video calls confuse our sixth sense and exhaust us

About Nick

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. A passionate teacher, he is committed to helping people find clarity in their thinking and ideas – and then delivering them with panache. He has been commissioned by Fortune 50 companies to write for many CEOs and presidents. He has coached people to give Congressional testimony, to appear on the Today Show, and to deliver an unforgettable TED talk. He has worked widely with political and educational leaders. And he has himself spoken, led conferences, and moderated panels at venues around the world.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Nick Morgan Interview Transcript

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

Nick Morgan
Pete, it’s a great pleasure to be with you again. We talked a while back.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Indeed. It was such a treat then because your book Give Your Speech, Change the World was such a hit with me and with many, many readers. You’ve got a new one coming out all about connecting in virtual spaces. First, I’ve got to see if you have seen this clip from the TV series Silicon Valley about the holographic communication chamber.

Nick Morgan
No, I haven’t, but it sounds cool.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my gosh. Well, the thing that gets me is that they start with – and we’ll link to it in the show notes – they start in a fancy holographic chamber and then it’s not working. Someone sticks his face up near the camera trying to fix. It was like, “Oh, we don’t have enough bandwidth.” They get on to a Skype-like program and then it sort of freezes up. It’s like, “Oh, you’ve got to update your software.” Then they’re on a cellphone and the connection goes bad.

It was like that is wise in terms of no matter what technology you’ve got, something can go awry technically. Then you’re speaking about things that aren’t quite working even beyond the technical difficulties. What’s the scoop in the book, Can You Hear Me?

Nick Morgan
That’s right. The technical stuff is what people tell me about first and of course, that’s very irritating as you just described it. That was sort of a great compendium of all the things that might go wrong. As we all know, they do. They do on a regular basis. Calls get dropped, the audio conferences mute button doesn’t work. The video conference is exhausting for some reason where it freezes up because there isn’t enough bandwidth. These things – it’s the stuff of daily life.

What’s fascinating to me is that people just sort of accept that. They don’t talk about it much except of course as it’s happening.

It’s a little bit like – I was reading about traffic jams the other day and it turns out that if you measure people’s blood pressure while they’re stuck in a traffic jam it goes way up, but as soon as the traffic starts moving, their blood pressure comes back down. They don’t stay that angry. That’s really interesting to me because it suggests that we have this tolerance for sort of low level, hassle at the technical level.

But what’s going on beneath that and what I found in doing the research for the book is that each of those forms of virtual communication basically strips out the essential thing that humans need to communicate with each other, which is clues that you get when you’re face to face and talking to someone easily and naturally about their intent.

That’s what we care about. We care about what is that other person thinking/feeling, what does that other person mean when they say what they say.

If you’re sitting across from somebody and they say, “Your hair is on fire,” and you know them, you can tell immediately whether they’re kidding or whether you actually need to get a fire extinguisher. Online, you can’t tell.

Most of our virtual communications, therefore, are endlessly frustrating and endlessly misunderstood because of that lack of emotional information, that lack of human intent. We imagine that we’re communicating the same way. We’re all generals fighting the last war.

We talk to each other via email, via audio conference and even via video conferences, which we can get into assuming that it’s the same as face to face because we don’t really think about it. We don’t know any other way to communicate. As a result, we communicate assuming that everything’s getting through, our intent is getting through and it actually isn’t.

We can offend the other person or the other person misunderstands us. Then we don’t quite understand why and we get cranky as a result and welcome to the virtual world. That was the territory that I discovered as I began my research.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. That assertion there is that what we fundamentally want to know is the intention of the person on the other side. We’re sort of – you’re suggesting your research reveals that we’re going to be more interested in what the human is thinking/feeling/believing than in the sort of word content that they’re projecting.

Nick Morgan
That’s absolutely right. We care about their emotions. It’s the emotions tell us how important is this communication. Is this person trying to get something across to us that’s desperately important? Is this person just making chit chat? Is this person flirting with us? Is this person angry at us? Is this person a threat?

All of those kind of questions play constantly in our unconscious minds. We want to know the answers to those things. When we don’t get the answers, then that makes us uncomfortable.

Here’s the added twist about this that I discovered. Imagine the human brain as a multi-channel organism that’s constantly seeking for other people’s intent and attitude. Then imagine that that attitude doesn’t come through, the intent doesn’t come through because it’s stripped out by virtual communication.

Then what happens is the brain doesn’t like empty channels, so it fills the channels with memories and assumptions and stuff it makes up. But, and here’s the thing, it fills it with negative information because it makes sense in evolutionary terms to assume the worst.

If you’re walking through the savannah and you see a shadow, it makes sense for your brain to assume that it’s a tiger and to make steps to get out of the way before you’re killed rather than to assume it’s just a friendly rabbit or something. Our brains do the same thing when we don’t get other people’s intent, we assume the worst.

That’s why virtual communications are always turning into trolling situations or people are always getting angry at you or you make what you assume is a joke in say, email, and the other person is offended for some reason. You think, “How could they be so stupid? I didn’t mean that at all.” Then you get angry at them. Then you have to spend six more emails straightening out the mess that’s been created.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is fascinating in terms of just fundamental human nature. I did not know that in terms of we are naturally filling in the empty channels and we have a strong bias for filling it in in a negative way. I guess I see that all the time, but I guess I didn’t stop to think that that is kind of hardwired into most people as opposed to, “Oh, I bumped into a couple touchy characters in my day.”

Nick Morgan
Sure. There are of course human exceptions, but what we’re talking about here is not the out loud things that people say. People are often more or less like Mr. Rodgers in that situation. We’re talking about the unconscious assumptions, of course. Those we’re less aware of, but they exist very powerfully nonetheless. They influence our decision making. They influence how we react to other people.

The brain is out there always asking “Is this person friend or foe? What’s this person’s intent?” When we’re not getting a clear answer, we assume the worst. That’s the nature of virtual communications. That’s the problem – in fact that’s the first of five problems that I talk about in the book that lead to so much of our frustration in the virtual world.

The reason why I think a large part of why so many people have noted that the world has turned angry in the last five, ten years and it’s a phenomena that many people ask about. They say, “Why is everybody so angry these days? Why is the conversation, the political conversation, the business conversation, why are all these things turned so sour?”

Hello, it’s because for the past ten years we’ve switched from mostly face to face communications to half virtual, half face to face or maybe it’s more like three-quarters virtual, a quarter face to face. It’s a huge unregulated social experiment that’s been going on for about a decade now since the mobile phone became ubiquitous. We’re only just now beginning to wake up to the dangers associated with it.

At first, the advantages were obvious. It’s easier to communicate, much less friction to use the Silicon Valley term. I can send out thousands of emails, it doesn’t cost me anything. I don’t have to lick any stamps. I don’t have to walk to the post office. There are all kinds of – there are unquestionable benefits with audio conferences and video conferences and email. I don’t travel as much so that cuts down on wear and tear. It saves the travel budget.

There are powerful incentives to use virtual communication. That’s why, especially as I say it the last ten years, that’s why it’s just swept the planet and swept the human race. But only now are we starting to wake up to the fact that there are some downsides.

For me the single most alarming statistic that captures this is that when a group of psychologists studied teenage girls and their time on cellphone. What they found was there’s a straight line relationship between the number of hours you spend on your mobile phone and the likelihood that you’re depressed.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh wow.

Nick Morgan
It just goes straight up. It goes straight up. Every hour you add – and it’s typical for a teenage girl to spend six hours on a cellphone.

Pete Mockaitis
In a day?

Nick Morgan
In a day. Yeah. The rates of depression are rising at a really alarming rate and suicide too tragically.

Pete Mockaitis
That is striking. Do you happen to recall – I’m such a dork for the data – roughly, what’s an extra hour do in terms of my odds for depression?

Nick Morgan
Well it’s – at the top end it’s like 30% of the cohort are depressed, so do the math backwards. That’s around six hours per day on the cellphone.

Pete Mockaitis
That is striking.

Nick Morgan
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
As you were sort of talking about this human nature stuff with emails, it reminds me one of my very first corporate internships, I remember, I was at Eaton Corporation, a diversified manufacturing. I had not heard of them before. I was like, “Oh wow, this is like a Fortune 500 company. This is pretty large and established.” It was cool.

It was like, oh man, it reminded me of – it was funny – I was familiar with Office Space before I had actually been in a cubicle-like environment. It was like there we were. I actually had a lot of fun. It was interesting characters and intellectual challenges. I was like, “Oh, working is fun. This is kind of cool.”

But one thing that really tripped me up was the emails because it’s sort of like when I would get an email, like, wait is that person – are they trying to – do they think that I’m not doing my job. I would have all these sort of paranoid thoughts pop in.

Nick Morgan
Right, right.

Pete Mockaitis
Then when I would send an email, I’d have a couple times in which someone seemed kind of rankled with me. I remember my buddy Dan and I, we sort of partnered up with each other. We called it PCS, Political Consulting Solutions, in which we would preview each other’s emails and provide feedback on how it could be misconstrued in a way that’s going to really upset the other person. We spent a lot of time on this. It was wild.

Nick Morgan
That’s such a great example of what I’m talking about. I love that. Your solution is one, broadly speaking, that I suggest, which is you begin to create a community that discusses the implications of this.

The reason why most people don’t do that is that one of the unintended consequences of making email easy compared to office memos back in the day or inner office mail or whatever it was people used to do, is that we get tons of it now. We’re buried. Everyone talks about information overload, that’s because it’s easy to do.

We have a difficult time just coping with it all, so we tend to go through it very quickly. We just react emotionally. We actually are using that unconscious brain in a way that also has its unintended consequences and leads to negativity and suspicion and paranoia and all those juicy things. Yeah, that’s a great example.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. You say you’ve laid out five key problems associated with this. I’d love to get your view on what are the problems and your sort of favorite practice to ameliorate that problem or to address it a bit.

Nick Morgan
Yeah, sure. The first one I talked about is this lack of feedback is the fact that I can’t detect what you’re intending toward me. It’s a like a sensory deprivation chamber, most virtual communications, in one form or another. Email is the worst because that’s just words, black and white marks on a screen.

Of course, audio conference, you’ve got a little bit of the people’s intent through the voice. Actually some of that is stripped out and I can talk about the technical reasons for that. That gets a chapter in my book. Audio conferences are worse than you think, which is why we find them so boring. Nonetheless there’s a little bit of information there.

And we get a little bit more in a video conference. But on the whole, video conferences, people think, “Well, I’m actually seeing the other person,” you have to remember, it’s still just a two dimensional representation of a three-dimensional person. It’s still screening out things that you get easily and instantly face to face that you don’t get in video conferencing, which is why video conferencing is so tiring for most people. That’s the first big problem is the lack of feedback.

The second one is that as a result of that lack of feedback, we lack empathy. Normally, say if you’re standing with somebody, you’re having a quick conversation and you say something sarcastic and you see the pain in their eyes, you can do something instantly, and people mostly do, nice people on the whole, they’ll pat you on the arm or say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that,” because they’ll see the reaction in your eyes. They’ll get right away that your intent back to me is “Oh, you hurt my feelings.” People can repair that because we have that empathic connection.

That’s the second big problem is that empathic connection is just largely gone.

The third problem is that you don’t have any control over your own persona or not enough control because what happens online since it’s done by machines for machines through machines is that it remembers forever.

The classic example of this is the drunken frat boy and the sorority girl pictures on Facebook that come back to haunt you when you’re trying to get your first job. We all can appreciate that that sometimes things happen in social media or online that we wish would go away.

Some governments around the world have started to rewrite the rules so that you are allowed to insist that information like that be pulled down, but it’s not universal yet. It’s very hard to do. It’s time consuming and a struggle. Lack of control over your persona, the information that’s out there, is a problem.

This is an interesting one because when I first started talking about this with my publishers, their reaction was, “Well, that doesn’t seem all that important really,” until I said – they said, “You might want to leave that one out.” I said, “Well, come on now. Think of the number of times in a day that somebody Googles you.”

They hadn’t really thought about it before, but people Google you now when they meet you. If you’re a potential customer or if they’re going to be your customer, you Google them. If you’re going to date a relative of theirs, they’ll Google you. People Google each other now often and on and on and on. The result is that there is information about you out there online, sort of whether you’re aware of it or not.

The other thing that happens is for people who do take control of this and create a website and a persona and you Google their name and up comes something that looks sort of bright and breezy and professional and interesting, compare that with somebody else who you Google and maybe there’s three or four different Nick Morgan’s that come up.

One of them looks a little sketchy. The other one might be me and whatnot. Then you think, “Oh, this person doesn’t exist. What’s the matter with them? Why don’t they have a website?”

In a way it’s also the competition that if you don’t control your persona, then people see you as less than human. That’s the third big problem.

The fourth problem, and this is a really subtle one, is that when you take out these emotions as I’ve been describing, then it actually makes it hard to make good decisions. The reason for that is we like to think of ourselves as logical beings who make logical decisions, but in fact, most of our decisions are based on emotions.

There’s a famous case of a stroke victim named HM, whose initials are used in the medical literature because he’s so famous. But he was kept anonymous, but his initials were used. He had a stroke which paralyzed his emotional centers of his brain. He was therefore unable to make decisions because it’s emotions we use to rate the importance of something.

This is easy to understand if you go back to a very simple example from your childhood that hopefully this never happened to you, but let’s pretend you walked up to a stove at age two and you saw this bright, glowing orange thing and you thought, “Oh, that looks cool,” and you put your finger on it.

Then what happened? Well, then suddenly you were subsumed with rage, and pain, and anger, and fear, and terror. You started screaming for your mother and all kinds of things happened. You never forgot that moment if that happened to you. You made a decision right then and there and you always followed it ever since never put your finger on a glowing hot stove ever again.

That goes up there because so much pain is associated with it as a very high and important decision. It sounds silly, but that’s the way in which our brain creates structures in order to allow us to make decisions. We rate things on their importance based on the number of times they come up in our memory and the amounts of emotion that are attached to them.

If you think of remodeling, recently we were remodeling our kitchen, there’s a ton of decisions you have to make when you’re remodeling a kitchen. You have to decide how much the surface is and what are the cabinets going to look like.

Pete Mockaitis
The knobs. There’s so many choices of knobs.

Nick Morgan
There are whole stores just devoted to knobs, Pete, it’s crazy. You can lose your mind trying to make these decisions.

Well, how do you make those decisions? Ultimately you start out all happy to do it. Let’s pick the best one and you do a little research. Then after a while you’ve made about 50 decisions, you just can’t stand it anymore. You just start going, “That one.” You just point and you say, “I’ll take that one.”

What are you basing it on? You’re basing it on some kind of emotional memory. That drawer pull reminded you of one that you used to have in your home when you were a kid and you loved it or you want one that’s different from the one you used to have in your home when you were a kid because you hated the home when you were a kid. That’s how we make those kind of decisions. We make them based on emotions and memories.

Pete Mockaitis
Or even if you’re imagining the future in terms of – or likening it too – it’s like, “Oh man, that’s so futuristic. That’s like some cutting edge Star Trek space-age knob there. I want to be like Captain Picard when I’m opening my drawer.”

Nick Morgan
That fits my image of myself or the image that I want to be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, totally.

Nick Morgan
Yeah, that’s the fourth problem.

Then the final one is that when you compromise this kind of decision making and emotional connection then what happens is people don’t commit in the same way. This is where we get into the whole trolling problem and the fact that we’ve all experienced at a very simple level if – contrast say the Amazon website, most of shop on Amazon and we keep going back to Amazon. Why? Because they’re completely obsessive about making that experience work for us.

But think about another shopping website that you’ve gone to that the experience wasn’t that great. Maybe the response was slow or it was hard to find the right product or in the end they sent you the wrong one and you had to send it back and that was an incredible hassle. How many times are you going to go back to that website? Never. You’re one and done.

That’s the nature of the online world is one and done compared to a face to face world where if you have a convenient coffee shop, maybe one time the barista screws up the coffee and gives you something that doesn’t taste very good, but you forgive him because he’s a human being and it’s local and convenient and you’re going to go back there again. If it happens enough times, maybe you won’t. You’ll find another place.

But face to face the experience is very different. We have a much higher tolerance and a much stronger sense of commitment to people that we meet face to face. That’s the final problem, just the online commitment, the online connection between people is very fragile and very transient.

If we try to communicate, and this is my main point in the book, is we’re still trying to communicate as if we were living in a face-to-face world, so we assume those kinds of connections are made on the same basis as they are in the real face-to-face world and they’re not.

I go into an email conversation. In a way I haven’t really reflected on kind of assuming the other person knows my intent. Why? Because when I talk to them face to face, they pick up my intent without any effort, so I don’t have to put a lot of that into my email if I’m thinking in those terms.

But in fact, I do and that’s really the beginning of the solution is I say, you need to start putting in the emotions and the clarity and intent, specifically the human intent into your email. It feels strange at first.

But I say it all begins with a question, which a neuroscientist told me he thinks about under the circumstances, which is “How does what I just said make you feel?” As soon as you ask that question, then the whole game changes and we can begin to turn virtual communications into something that words not quite as well as face to face, because of the way our unconscious minds are wired, but it’s going to work reasonably well. But that’s the key thing.

There are two implications of that. First of all, it allows you to tell me how you’re feeling emotionally because it gives time for that and it gives the space for it. But second, it also gives you the respect to say “I care about how you feel.”

Now face to face, I can’t help but care because if I say something and then that hurts your feelings and I see the pain in your eyes, then I’m hardwired to care about that because we humans are decent, most of us. The number of psychos, thank God, are fairly small. Most of us are hardwired to respond sympathetically that we have empathy, so we care.

But online, we don’t. That’s why we need to ask that question, “How does what I just said make you feel?” It’s about taking the time to do that and also showing the other person the respect and the empathy and the caring that says “I want to know these things. I’m going to take a moment to do that.”

It involves a real shift. It’s not difficult to understand or technically difficult to do, but it involves a huge shift in just the way we think about communication because essentially what we’re doing is putting back in the emotional connection, the intent, the clarity of that intent, which we do reasonably well most of the time face to face and we do horribly online, horribly.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s striking in terms of I can see – you made a compelling case here for why this is extra critically necessary when it comes to the online dimensions.

Although I don’t think it’s a bad question for in-person contexts either because I think a lot of times – we’re not, even though there’s – I guess for example, if you’re looking at a room of a dozen people in a conference room and you’re presenting something, it can be hard to kind of keep your eye on all of them at the same time.

Nick Morgan
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
It would be great to get some of that feedback. What’s great is it can even surface information that’s not yet conscious I’d say. I’m just imagining this playing out.

Nick Morgan
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
To the person you’re saying it to because, “How does this make you feel?” Then especially if they’re on the spot and they can’t squirm out and say “Nothing,” they might say – if you have a decent relationship, I guess some people would just not say anything. Because I can imagine a lot of times they’ll say “How does it make you feel?” and they’re like, “Yeah, it’s fine, I guess,” it’s just like the emotion is sort of like uninspired.

Nick Morgan
Right, but then you’ll know.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Nick Morgan
Then you’ll know that. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like this proposal-

Nick Morgan
You can tell by the reaction.

Pete Mockaitis
-is fine I guess. It will probably get the job done, but it’s not going to inspire tremendous energy and enthusiasm and commitment from the people on my team. Are we okay with that or are we not okay with that?

Nick Morgan
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Now there’s a whole other conversation that maybe needs to be had.

Nick Morgan
That’s right and it’s a good thing to have. I think one of the things you’re pointing to is that what’s happening is that some of our bad behavior that we’ve learned online is in danger of leaking back into our face to face.

We’ve all complained about this when we go to a meeting and half the people are on their cellphones. You’re going, “Wait a minute, don’t you even have the courtesy to put down the cellphone and talk to me. Here we are face to face. We’ve gone to all the trouble to get together face to face and you’re still on your cellphone. Come on, that isn’t acceptable behavior.” Some people surface that and insist that people leave their cellphones at the door or turn them off or whatever.

I’ve noticed more and more and I know many other people have as well, I’m sure you have, bad behavior from virtual communications were leaking back into face to face and in effect making – the worst possible outcome would be if face to face were dragged down to the level of virtual communications.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m just imagining we’d pull out an emoji notecard from our pockets and just display that. “This is my response to what you’ve said.”

Nick Morgan
Well, I say in the book that we’re in danger of raising a generation of people who are uncomfortable communicating face to face and incompetent communicating online.

Pete Mockaitis
That is quotable, Tweet that and spooky.

Nick Morgan
Yeah, scary.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to kind of hit something you said earlier before it disappears. I was quite intrigued. You mentioned that because of our kind of false assessment of what’s being transmitted in audio, that leads to it being very boring. Because of our false assessment with video, that results in a 2D versus 3D, that results in it being very tiring. Can you explain that pathway a little bit more in these two dimensions?

Nick Morgan
Yeah, sure. This involves a slightly technical explanation, but I’ll make it as simple and brief as I can.

What happens when the phones were invented and the engineers said we’ve got to get the human voice into twister copper pair, that was the original phone line, was that they studied the human voice and realized that the human voice covers three bands of sound.

There’s the basic pitch at which say you and I are speaking. If I held one of the vowels that I’m saying out loud and made kind of a note out of that, so nooo, if I held that tone, we could find that on the piano. We could find that pitch. The pitch at which people speak exists within a pretty narrow band of about around 200 Hertz. It goes up to about 300 – 350 and goes down to about 100, but it’s a pretty narrow band, several hundred Hertz wide.

The human – if you think about human hearing, one of the extraordinary things is we can hear up to 20,000 Hertz when we’re young and healthy. As time goes on if we listen to too much loud rock music, we lose a bit at the top. But the basic human hearing range is 20 Hertz to 20,000 Hertz.

Now you think about why did we evolve to do that and the reason is something quite extraordinary about the human voice, we can identify other people’s voices without any apparent effort at all. That’s an extraordinary achievement when you think about it.

As soon as you pick up the phone and it’s your significant other calling or a family member, your mother, your father, friends, family, or if you hear politicians or famous actor’s voices on television or on the radio, you instantly know who all these people are. You know without any effort several hundred voices. It’s an extraordinary thing when you think about it.

The way you know that is there’s the basic pitch that people speak, but every human voice is like a fingerprint in that it’s individual and it’s characterized by a certain set of overtones over the basic pitch and undertones under the basic pitch.

There are three bands, as I said, there are the overtones, that your voice makes, which we can’t hear consciously but are fed into the sound of Pete’s voice or Nick’s voice, and then there are the basic pitch at which we’re speaking, and then there are the undertones.

Now, what the engineers realized was you could leave off the overtones and undertones and you’d still be able to understand the basic pitch. You’d be able to hear and understand what people were saying. They noticed that the human voice became a little less distinctive. It was a little harder to tell people apart, but not impossible because you still got some of that sound richness even in the narrow band.

Okay, that’s what people did for telephones and then the same thing happened – there was never a time when it suddenly became convenient to put massive more bandwidth into the sound of the human voice. Once the original science had been done, nobody ever thought let’s redo this and suddenly increase the ear buds and the speaking phones and everything so they can get 20,000 to 20 Hertz.

They never did that. As a result, the sounds are vastly restricted to that narrow band of the basic pitch.

Now here’s why that’s important. When you take out the undertones especially, also the overtones to a certain extent, but when you take out the undertones, then you take out the emotion. Emotion is conveyed in the undertones.

Now, because of our earlier discussion, you’ll know that that’s very important. As soon as you take out the emotions, then it gets hard to make good decisions and it’s also very boring because emotions, other people’s intent, are what we care about.

Basically the simple way to put this is when you’re on a regular team meeting with your team, which is spread out all over the world, then your boss is droning on about something, you can’t tell as well what the emotions are being conveyed in his or her voice because the undertones are taken out. They’re edited out. As a result your boss is both boring and you can’t read him or her as well.

That’s why there’s the stories of what people do on audio conferences in order to stay human, alive and on the planet are hilarious and …. The vast majority of people as soon as they get in an audio conference put their phone on mute and start doing their email. They’re only half there.

Then there are lots of good stories when I was doing the research I came up with a number of hilarious stories about gross and disgusting things, some of which I couldn’t put in the book, that people do when they put the phone on mute instead of listening on the audio conference.

Pete Mockaitis
We can’t let that go. Give us just one or two examples please.

Nick Morgan
Of course, people go to the bathroom and then forget

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, bummer.

Nick Morgan
Make revolting noises.

Pete Mockaitis
Embarrassing.

Nick Morgan
Yeah, embarrassing noises. But my favorite, people have sex believe it or not. Sometimes that gets overheard. While you’re on the boring audio conference, imagine somebody else is having a good time.

But my favorite one, my favorite one is there was a team that had a group based in South America, in Brazil I think it was, and a team in Asia and a team in the United States.

Obviously everybody except whoever the poor soul was that was talking had their phones on mute because an earthquake happened to the Brazilian team. They left their phones on mute and fled the building and didn’t come back and nobody noticed. The rest of the world didn’t know. The rest of the team had no idea that their teammates in Brazil were suffering an earthquake. That tells you just how dissociated and ridiculous audio conferences are.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

Nick Morgan
somewhere else on the phone can have an earthquake and you don’t even know, I mean come on.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. It’s not just one person. It’s numerous.

Nick Morgan
Right, there were several people sitting around that conference room table, which was by then shaking obviously.

Pete Mockaitis
That is wild. Well, thank you for that. Now these undertones, overtones business now I hear that, have a mental image I guess, audiogram, audio picture of what that sounds like in terms of when I’m speaking on the phone with someone or a conference call. But if I’m using something like a Zoom or a Skype, are we kind of collecting the full range from an audio bandwidth signal?

Nick Morgan
It depends a lot on the technology. What happens is though even if you use a good microphone, then the person at the other end may not be getting all of the information because of what he or she may be listening on.

If you’re listening on ear buds, ear buds are the worst, even good ones. Of course, they use this kind of trick technology. They don’t actually produce the low notes. They use a trick of the human ear to make you think you’re hearing it, by suggesting by doubling up on the note.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, so I’m not actually hearing the real stuff, but it’s kind of trying to-

Nick Morgan
No, your brain is filling it in.

Pete Mockaitis
-give me something that resembles it. Whoa.

Nick Morgan
Right, the brain is filling it in to a certain extent. You’re not actually – we’re having this lovely conversation, Pete, but you’re not actually hearing my voice. You’re hearing a kind of memory and a construction of my voice.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. I want to get your quick view then on, while we’re on that subject, I’ve used a lot of meeting platforms in my day and you’ve done a boatload of research. I know that different circumstances and contexts call for different solutions, but if you had to give me your personal favorite in the world of Zoom versus BlueJeans versus GoToMeeting versus Adobe Connect, which one would you say reigns supreme?

Nick Morgan
What I’m liking is – there are some Zoom setups that I’ve seen – Zoom seems to be the easiest to me just of all the ones I’ve used. I’ve used them all. I have no particular beef or no investment in any particular one. But Zoom seems to be the easiest.

Some Zoom setups are starting to build in better speakers so that you can get a broader range of response built into the room for example. I’m in favor of those kind of setups where we start to put back in the sounds that have been stripped out.

But understand one other thing we were going to talk about, videos. Let me just quickly say the issue with video, and that’s another interesting one. We humans are brought up to think about the five senses. That’s sort of what we imagine we have. There’s actually a sixth sense that all of us have, which works very, very hard and that’s called proprioception.

Proprioception is the effort that your mind and my mind make to track our location in space and the location of everybody around us.

Just to pick a fun example, that’s why most people find cocktail parties so exhausting because there are a lot of people milling around. You keep track of where are all those people are. Your unconscious mind is keeping track of where all those people are even if you can’t see them, so even the ones behind you. you’re doing it with a little bit of sort of weird sixth sense again that people have of – you know the prickly feeling you have at the back of your neck. You kind of know somebody’s behind there so maybe you sneak a little look.

It’s a combination of looking and sort of the feeling that you get when there’s somebody behind you and physical sensation and shadows. You use all the means at your disposal. Proprioception is a very hardworking little sense to keep track of where everybody is.

Well, on video that doesn’t come through. Once again, that channel is emptied out pretty much because you can’t tell where that other person actually is in space because they’re sitting on a two dimensional screen, which is maybe four or five feet from your face. But you know they aren’t kind of there because you only see their head and shoulders.

You know they aren’t actually four feet away from you, but you don’t know where they are. Are they ten feet, twenty feet? Your brain works really hard and assumes that that person is both more dangerous than they actually are and farther away or closer than they actually are. You don’t get a good read on it. Your brain is working extra hard and it is again filling that channel with information which is made up essentially.

We find that very exhausting. That’s why people often end up shouting at each other on video conferences or report themselves fatigued after an hour of video conferences. It’s very hard unless you’re really practiced at it, to do a long, long video conference. Whereas, most people if they’re enjoying the conversation, wouldn’t mind an hour or two conversation face to face.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re bringing me back to some days which I’ve done 11 hours of video coaching calls in a day and I can confirm that tuckered me out good.

Nick Morgan
Wow. There you go. I’m impressed you went that long. That’s really-

Pete Mockaitis
I’m used to the load in video sense. Um, so—

Nick Morgan
Well, just remember, you’re making your unconscious brain work very hard. I talk in the book about things you can do to improve it.

One of the things – it sounds trivial, but it’s really not – is you can do this on your end, is set up your video conferencing to give the other person subtle clues as to the depth perception involved in the room.

I say have something that’s near you that they can easily estimate the size of and then put something like a plant a few feet back. Then have a wall clearly behind that with things on it that will help them size what they’re seeing.

If you give people those three layers of depth, then that’s actually visually very helpful for them. They’ll find talking to you much less stressful than they otherwise would. It takes a certain amount of effort.

And of course, adequate lighting. Everybody has heard that I’m sure now about video conferencing. It takes – because it’s just a camera, a TV camera, and it takes a lot of light to reproduce enough through the pixels that you need a lot of extra light. That’s something that most people don’t do, so we’re squinting into the gloom and we can’t see the other person very well.

Adequate lighting and a sense of depth perception really go a long way to improving that sense of ease that you’ll give the other person. Now that won’t help you unless the other person does the same thing, but at least you can be kind to whoever you’re talking to.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, now part of me is wondering if you did the reverse in terms of I put a giant can of Coca Cola just to really mess with their whole ….

Nick Morgan
You see that wicked thought, Pete, that comes from online communication. There you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh man.

Nick Morgan
You’re prone to misbehave online.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guilty. Well, tell me anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a couple of your favorite things and see if there’s any new favorite things since last time?

Nick Morgan
Yeah, sure. I would just say one of the other quick fixes that I talk about, which I recommend very highly for anybody who has an ongoing team audio conference, that sort of arrangement, where you have people in Singapore and the US and Europe say and you talk to them all every week all the time and you need to keep an ongoing happy relationship with them.

Then at the beginning of every call, do the virtual temperature check is what I call it, where you ask them – think of a stop light, red, yellow, or green. You can also say amber if you like amber better, red, amber or green.

Red means “This is an awful day. There’s disaster. You probably should let me off this call.” Yellow means “I’m having a stressful day but I’m okay to be on the call, but cut me some slack.” Green means everything is great.

What you find is if you ask people just to do that simple check, they feel they have permission to do that, whereas often what happens on audio conferences is your world may be falling apart around you, but you get the … audio conference because you have to do it. It’s your job. You don’t feel comfortable saying online, on an audio conference like that, “Well, actually life’s awful right now and here’s what’s going on.”

That audio conference set up because it’s stripped of emotion, doesn’t give us the permission to do that typically. Audio conferences often get off to a bad start because half the team is missing in action literally or figuratively and nobody knows. Resentment builds up and misunderstandings build up.

This is a way of just getting clear and allowing whoever the team leader is to say if somebody does say red, say “Well, okay, sorry to hear that. Do you want to talk about it? Do you want to be let off the call? Shall I get back to you later? Do you want to have a side conversation?” It allows you just to handle that in a compassionate and thoughtful way.

Same with yellow. You can say, “I’m sorry that it’s not green. Do you want to talk about it or is it good enough that you can get along?” They’ll make a choice. Then do the same thing at the end of the call. It’s very quick. It’s easy to do. Yet it allows you to put some of that emotional connection back in that the internet and virtual communication has taken out.

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

Nick Morgan
I always come back to “The only reason to give a speech is to change the world.” That’s my favorite all time quote. I probably said that the last time, but I’m still – that’s still my all-time favorite quote.

I use that with clients all the time when we’re talking about asking does this speech have enough impact. Is it going to change the world? Of course, that means for a specific audience and specific moment. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a politician announcing world peace or something like that. People can change the world in small but important ways.

I think it’s a great quote and a great test for any kind of public communication.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Nick Morgan
Favorite book, I just read the 12 Rules for Life, the Peterson book. I think that’s very thoughtful. It’s not that the 12 rules are so surprising. They aren’t. They’re basically the Golden rule and a few others of decent behavior to each other.

But what’s really incredible about that book is the discussion leading up to each of the 12 rules. It’s just very deep, thoughtful examination of human frailty and the nature of evil in the world and why we do the things we do and how we need to treat each other, just a very deep and important book I think. I got a lot out of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you.

Nick Morgan
Like I said, the rules won’t surprise you, but it’s the discussion that’s thoughtful and useful.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Nick Morgan
A favorite habit?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Nick Morgan
Besides coffee? Coffee and cookies. My new favorite habit is I’ve started to do more yoga and tai chi because tai chi is beautiful. It’s kind of like organized slow dance. I was never a very good dancer, so tai chi sort of gives me the illusion that I can kind of control my body in space.

My only fear about it is it doesn’t feel like much exercise. I’m not working up a sweat doing tai chi, but my tai chi instructor keeps telling me, “No, this is very good for you. This will be very good for your circulation and your balance and all kinds of good things.” I’ve really been enjoying tai chi. I recommend it highly, very good way to de-stress and to do a different thing than your normal day-to-day life, which involves much virtual communication.

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

Nick Morgan
PublicWords.com is our website, P-U-B-L-I-C-W-O-R-D-S. There’s a contact form on there. You can reach out or just shoot me an email at Nick@PublicWords.com.

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

Nick Morgan
Yes, I do. If you’re spending any kind of time communicating virtually, then I challenge you to think about how am I going to make clear what my intent is in these conversations and these communications and how am I going to give other people the respect to find out what their intent or reaction is.

It begins with asking yourself the question and asking other people around you the question, “How did what I just say make you feel?” and proceeding from there. But we need to put that respect and care for each other’s emotions and reactions back into virtual communication.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Nick, this has been a real treat. Thanks again for coming on back. I wish you tons of luck with Can You Hear Me? and all the good stuff you’re doing.

Nick Morgan
Pete, thank you so much. It’s always great to talk to you. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

331: Making Things Work through Context Creation and Candid Communication with Josselyne Herman Saccio

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Josselyne Herman Saccio says: "It's not that the content of your life is giving you stress, it's the context in which you're viewing it."

Josselyne Herman Saccio opens up about creating your own context and communicating honestly for a more productive workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What most people get wrong about communication
  2. The danger of scapegoating
  3. How to get productive outcomes out of your team

 

About Josselyne

Josselyne Herman-Saccio is a communication expert with Landmark, a personal and professional growth, training and development company that’s had more than 2.4 million people use its programs to cause breakthroughs in their personal lives as well as in their communities, generating more than 100,000 community projects around the world. In The Landmark Forum, Landmark’s flagship program, people cause breakthroughs in their performance, communication, relationships and overall satisfaction in life.

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Josselyne Herman Saccio Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Josselyne, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Josselyne Herman
You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we’ve got a lot of great stuff to dig into, but first and foremost, I need to hear about your experience as a pop star in the ‘90s.

Josselyne Herman
That is like ten lifetimes ago, but it was a dream come true. It really was. I had always wanted to be a singer since I was four, so to be able to accomplish it and travel around the world as a pop star was literally pinch me every day.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. What were you singing? What was the story?

Josselyne Herman
What was I singing?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, I was in a group called Boy Krazy with a K. We were kind of like the New Kids on The Block, but the female version or a precursor to the Spice Girls. They were modeled after us actually.

Pete Mockaitis

Josselyne Herman
We were singing pure pop. It was definitely bubble-gum pop all the way down, but we had a number one record in 1993 so that was definitely an accomplishment.

Pete Mockaitis
What was the name of the record and the hit track and could you sing maybe one line for us?

Josselyne Herman
Of course. It was called That’s What Love Can Do. As soon as I start singing it people go, “Oh, I know that song.” But it went, “That’s what love can do. I don’t know what to break your heart in two,” like that. It was one of the songs that was the most played song on the radio of 1993.

Pete Mockaitis
Congratulations. Well, that’s what’s so fun among many things about you is that you have a wide array of experiences. Your IMDB profile was illuminating, as a producer, a manager, a casting director, a non-profit founder, wife and mother of three, and some animals in there too. How do you do it all?

Josselyne Herman
Yes. Well, I have it all; I don’t do it all. There is a distinction because if you want to have it all, you’ve got to have a great team of people around you and you’ve got to have people that are willing to support you in having that kind of life and I do, both in my business, my non-profit, my neighborhood endeavors, my family, everybody works as a team and as a community. We get it done as a unit, not as individual ….

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Maybe you can start us off by giving just a little bit of perspective for how have you gone about thinking about who you have chosen to bring into the circle and to partner with?

Josselyne Herman
Well, whoever I end up … work at my company or to work with me in my non-profit, they’re always like-minded people, people who want to make a difference, people who want to fulfill other people’s dreams. It’s pretty easy to have people operating as a team if what you’re up to is big enough. If you’re only up to something at an individual level, you don’t really need a team.

But like right now I’m dealing with something with my family where my mother fell and broke her pelvis and she’s 87. As a family, we’ve gotten together and we’re covering all the different shifts at the rehab and helping my dad, from my 12-year-old son to my 22-year-old daughter and my 16-year-old son and my husband, my sister, and her husband, and her children. We’re all just as a family, taking on whatever needs to get done so there’s never any holes.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. That’s great. Well, you do a lot of work with Landmark, so can you orient those who are unfamiliar with the organization or the Landmark forum in particular? What’s it all about?

Josselyne Herman
Well, Landmark’s like a global organization that really works to support people and empower people and enable people in fulfilling in what matters to them. We’re like a coaching company.

People do our seminars or our programs and we provide high-performance coaching for people who want to have an extraordinary life, not just go through life, but actually accomplish their dreams and make a big difference in whatever area that turns them on and lights them up and inspires them.

Pete Mockaitis
I remember going to the Landmark forum when I was in college. It was pretty cool. It was a powerful experience for me. I appreciate what you do and what you’re up to. I remember the forum leaders were kind of like, “Ahhh,” at the time and here we are just chatting.

Josselyne Herman
That’s right. Just human beings, I know. It seems like, “Oh my God, do they ever go to the bathroom? Do they eat? I don’t know.” But yes we do. We have real lives and we’re real people.

The difference is we’ve spent years mastering those distinctions that you get in the Landmark forum or the rest of the … for living. Those distinctions are designed to produce the kind of human being who can be with anyone at any time under any circumstance and have power, freedom, self-expression, and peace of mind. That’s not too bad.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I remember a couple of them, and then hopefully others have just sort of taken root and even if I can’t consciously summon them. But we did this one exercise – there was some – it was intense. There were – I remember we did this one exercise.

Pete Mockaitis
All we did was we stood very close, maybe like a foot away from another person and just staring at them in the face and looking at their eyes. It was. It was powerful. It’s like there’s nothing to be afraid of or intimidated about. We’re just two human beings in space nearby each other right now. But no one does that, so it was really noteworthy in terms of the effect it had.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, that’s The Be With exercise.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, that’s in the advanced course, which is I think one of the most profound opportunities to actually discover what it’s like to just be with people without all the stories or the fear or the … we add to being with people.

It’s really – it’s something that you can practice with all people because we don’t do it as you said. Go home with the person that you live with and just actually just be with them without having to fill the space with talking.

That might not work on the radio or in a podcast, but as you go to actually be with people, it’s quite remarkable because you can see yourself in all people and distance between you and people and all that fear and all that story and all that kind of whatever stops us from being with people fully gets disappeared in that exercise and people get a real experience of being someone beyond their individual thingness.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. You’ve got a few areas of expertise. I’d like to dig into a few. Can you tell us how can we be superman or superwoman without experiencing a whole lot of stress all the time?

Josselyne Herman
Well, it really is the context … decisive because – I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that term before, but some people have, some people haven’t. But if I hold my finger up and I say, okay, the context is body part. What’s right there is what?

Pete Mockaitis
A finger.

Josselyne Herman
Exactly. If I say now the context is number, what’s right there?

Pete Mockaitis
One.

Josselyne Herman
Is a one. If I say the context is now direction, it might be up. It’s not that the content of your life is giving you stress, it’s the context in which you’re viewing it or holding it or experiencing it.

If the context is “Oh my God, I’m overwhelmed,” then it doesn’t even matter if you only have 5 things to do or 55 things to do, you’re going to experience it inside of that lens. The context is really what … your experience of life. I have a lot of content, but it doesn’t occur for me as stressful because I’m operating inside of the context of having it all.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting, as opposed to “I’ve got to go do this next thing. Ah!”

Josselyne Herman
Yes, exactly. I also deal with everything in my calendar rather than my head which helps because you can’t actually double book yourself in reality. You only do that when you’re using your thoughts as a test for reality.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. I’m with you there. Then how does one go about establishing that context? You just say, “I’m having it all?” Is that all there is to it or what’s done to make that context real and cemented and take root and effect?

Josselyne Herman
Well, one thing is people – the first step that I would recommend people do is get clear about what really matters to you. What is the picture of what you really want? Not necessarily something connected to your past or what’s practical or what’s doable based on your credentials, but what do you want.

If you can create that picture and actually look at what it looks like, you can see what it looks like, then you can begin to design your actions to fulfill on that versus being limited to what you think is doable based on your path.

A lot of it has to do with what’s your vision for your life, for your family, for your company, whatever you’re dealing with. Like for you with what you’re doing with this podcast, what’s your vision for that other than just going through an interview because it’s in your date book? It’s like okay, but what are you really creating with the messages that you’re putting out there in the world for your listeners?

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. It’s easy I find to sort of slip in and out of that a bit in terms of I am transforming the experience of work and unleashing energy and happiness for professionals everywhere versus I’ve got to get this thing out before the publish date.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, and if you aren’t in the context that you say you’re up to for other people, then it’s inauthentic. If you’re transforming the experience of work and this is your work, that would be kind of like do as I say, not as I do, right?

Keeping that real for yourself – I know in my office, I make sure that the environment is one of team and support and integrity and fun. If it’s not that way in my office, I have everything to say about whether I can bring that to my office. I’m not looking for it from my office; I’m bringing it to my office so that people have that experience when they work with me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Any other perspectives in terms of keeping that context real? You’re getting clear on what you want. You are sort of returning to that frequently. Anything else?

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, I would definitely keep it written down because the world just kind of happens and your life just kind of happens and you end up, like you said, going in and out of just kind of going through life and living it on the other side of that. It’s easy to fall into that default going through life, getting through this to the next thing, to the next thing.

But the second thing I would recommend is really to brainstorm with other people. Don’t try and do it all in yourself in your head. Your thinking is limited to your own brain. Borrow other people’s brains and really look at what your vision is and how it can be accomplished, not just from what you see in your linear vision, but non-linear about it and actually work with people to get their perspective and ideas for actions that you can take. You don’t know what they might see that you don’t see.

Pete Mockaitis
When we’re borrowing other people’s brains, do you have any best practices associated with leading those people to say yes to the borrowing and some of the best questions to surface the perfect wisdom?

Josselyne Herman
Again, it depends on what you’re dealing with. The context is, again, decisive always. Whatever you’re out to accomplish. First share your vision. If you don’t share your vision, then nobody can contribute to accomplishing it for you.

If you can share it with people and what you see possible if that vision got accomplished, then people can have a space to contribute to you their ideas and their perspectives and what they see. All of the sudden your vision is malleable and it’s not like a thing that you’re going to do. It becomes something that is morphable into something else based on what other people contribute.

Maybe it grows, maybe it shifts and you’re not stuck with something like an agenda. You’re really committed to fulfilling on whatever is possible out of that vision being realized versus the pathway. It’s not like, “Fly this airline, fly this airline.” It’s like, “No, I want to go to France. How am I going to get there?” So what’s your France?

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Maybe just throw an example in here. Let’s just say that someone is looking to get a job they love. They’re currently not so pleased with their current work environment. They’re thinking “What I really want to do is work in a field where I am creative and have an amazing team around me,” and that sort of thing. If they’re going about borrowing people’s brains, what’s that look like and unfold in practice?

Josselyne Herman
I would first start by saying, “Do you know anybody or do you know anybody who knows anybody who’s hiring in a creative field?” Or you could say, “Listen, I don’t really know what kind of field I want to go into, but who do you know that I could talk to to brainstorm on what kind of fields are available?”

You start to do some recon, but inside of – nothing like solid that you’re trying to get – it’s not like, “Oh, let me talk to you right now about getting this job right now.” No, it’s like, “Let’s have a conversation to explore and discover what might be possible in this industry or that industry.”

Then all of the sudden you’re free to really look rather than driven to make something happen. That creates a very different kind of conversation with people because they know when you’re trying to get something from them and you know and everything is constrained in those conversations, so it becomes a much more open space to create something than having to force something.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, thank you. Well, when you talk about conversations, you’re bringing back all kinds of memories here with Landmark and the conversations that we engaged in. I’d love to just dig into some of your take when it comes to communication skills, powerful conversations. What are most of us humans getting wrong when it comes to doing this in our daily lives?

Josselyne Herman
Well, I think mostly we react to things and then we’re on automatic and we really aren’t creating our responses. We’re reacting either from some imaginary threat or maybe a real threat, but most of the threats are imaginary or we’re trying to prove something, or produce a result and look good.

That gives us a quality of life that is very distinct from the kind of quality of life when you’re actually out here living life and dancing with whatever’s happening and just kind of free to be and free to act on whatever matters to you.

When people get triggered – I’ll just give an example from my actual life, so it’s not conceptual. Recently I noticed that in my office I was not looking forward to going to my office. That’s very odd for me because I love what I do. It was like I realized it was that the person who was working for me wasn’t doing what I expected them to do in the job and I wasn’t pleased with the way it was going.

I was pretending that it was all fine because I didn’t want to have to deal with hiring somebody new and training them. That was the truth of the matter, so I was just kind of functioning as if this was going to work out. But that was really a lie.

I knew it wasn’t working and I was just tolerating a mediocre work environment, which many of us do. We just kind of survive life. We don’t really live it. We survive it. We get through it.

I sat down with her and I said, “Listen, this is – my inauthentic way of being is that I’m pretending that this is working when it’s really not. These things are working, but there’s more things that aren’t working. It doesn’t seem like this is your future, like this is what you want to do because the way you’re being and acting isn’t really working in the job. You’re not doing what I hired you to do.

I have to micromanage you. It’s got to be horrible for you to have me on you like that. It’s not working for me either as your boss.”

I got into a kind of conversation with her and it became clear that she really wasn’t loving what she was doing and she really wanted to do something else. I said, “Great. Well, what do you want to do?” I asked her what she wanted. I really brainstormed with her on how could we set her up so that she could be doing that and I could find a replacement with somebody who actually wanted to do this job.

Within two weeks, I hired somebody else. She trained them and I got her another job. I negotiated her deal.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, that’s a way you can have win-win scenarios in communication. It doesn’t have to be like you end things on a bad note. You can really stand for people to have the life of their dreams, even if it’s not in your office.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Now that seems so – it seems like, but, of course. That just makes good sense. It’s not working for you. It’s not working for them, so let’s change it up and get it so it does work.

Josselyne Herman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
But in practice most people don’t quite go there with that level of honesty and candor and I don’t know, vulnerability, all that stuff. What do you think gets in the way there?

Josselyne Herman
I think looking good, like we’re so driven to look good and be the – well, “I’m the boss and you’re the employee. You’re not doing good, so now you’ve got to fix it.” I don’t really look at things that way because I’m more interested in having things work than being right. I think a lot of people are driven by default to be right, make something wrong.

When you can’t make something work as a human being, if you can’t make your relationship work, you’ve got to make your partner wrong to justify why it’s not working. If you can’t make your office work, you’ve got to make your employees wrong or your boss wrong or the job wrong somehow to justify why you’re not really rocking it.

From my perspective that’s one of the biggest things is when people … that they have a loss of power in having things work around them or having things thrive around them, the default is to find a scapegoat of why, a reason why it’s not working. Then you’ve got to be right about that and justified about that.

That’s a killer. Forget about work, just look at – turn on the news. Look at what’s happening. This is our world. This is what it is to be a human being by default.

It really is like a new kind of person to be somebody who goes, “Okay, this isn’t working. Where am I not being straight or lying about something or pretending something?” Being responsible for how things are, not to blame, but you have a say in how it goes.

This isn’t like, “Oh, it’s just this person that’s just untrainable.” No, it’s like this isn’t working. There’s something we’re pretending when it’s not really that way. People do it in personal lives. They do it in business. They do it at the level of society, at the level of organization, at all levels.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really a powerful distinction there associated with being more interested in having things work than being right.

I’d like to dig in a little bit in terms of I guess sometimes when things don’t seem like they’re working it feels like an intractable fundamental thing. Let’s just go somewhere. Right now we’ve got a precious six-month-old baby at home.

Josselyne Herman
Oh lovely. Congratulations.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. He’s a joy and we love him. It’s so swell. But one thing that’s not working is us feeling vitalized, energized amidst the challenges that come when he doesn’t sleep so well. In some ways it’s like, hey, what’s not working is that it’s rare that both of us are rested and in a pleasant mood with each other

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, I get it. I have three kids. I’m right with you. I’ve been there. I’m glad I’m over it.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. We’re kind and respectful and not snippy, but it seems like some of those magic moments are hard to come by when there’s just sleep deprivation.

Now, in some ways it seems like, “Hey, that just kind of goes with the territory with a youngster,” but in another way it seems like it’s not working. I guess not to overly complicate things, but it seems like at times there are tradeoffs or sacrifices or kind of fundamental realities that can result in non-workingness, but I have a feeling you might challenge me here and open up something bigger.

Josselyne Herman
Well, I’m not going to challenge you. I would look at it as supporting you because one fundamental thing that we deal with at Landmark, and this is not just a Landmark thing, this is a life thing, is without integrity, nothing works. It doesn’t matter how great you are, how much you love each other.

Without integrity – and I don’t mean morality, I mean without all the spokes in your wheel – things don’t work. You can’t win the Tour de France if you don’t have the spokes in your wheel. Now if you have the spokes in your wheel, it doesn’t mean you’re going to win the Tour de France, but it’s required to have an environment that allows for workability and high performance.

Sleep is one of those spokes. When you don’t sleep sufficiently, whatever that is for you, everybody has a different number, it does impact your performance in life and your ability to be extraordinary is impacted if you’re not eating or you’re not sleeping or whatever those kind of fundamental spokes in your wheel of wellbeing.

Without integrity, you don’t have workability and high performance is out of sight. You can’t even see it from there.

From the perspective of being a new parent, one of the things you’d have to look at is what does it look like for integrity to be present in your wellbeing. How many hours – for each of you it may be different. You’ve got to discover yourself because there is no recipe, like my husband needs six. I need seven for that to be well. We look at how you do that when you have a young child that is waking up and validly so.

There are a lot of actions you can take to accomplish that. You can swap nights so that one night one person gets less sleep than the other and the other night – so that you always have a rested person.

You could also have – make requests of other people, like, “Will you take the baby for this night grandmother or grandfather?” I don’t know what your situation is or a friend where you leave and that other person comes in. Go swap apartments. Go to that other person’s house while they take care of the baby for that one night because one night a week, you restoring that kind of wellbeing makes a difference for you.

It could be a function of naps. It could be normally you would like to go to sleep at midnight because that’s what you like, but it really doesn’t work. You might have to start going to bed when the baby goes to bed so that you can get those hours in in those two to three hour stints.

Another thing is sleep training, which most people, they have a very specific view on that. But my view changed depending on my child. My last child I was finally like, “Cry your head off. I don’t care,” and he did and he slept great. He would go to sleep at eight; he would wake up at seven. I was like, “Oh my God, I have so much time.”

But that was not like that with my first child. I was up making sure she was breathing with the mirror half the night because your brain goes crazy. You’re like, “Oh my God, she’s crying. She made a noise. Let me go-“

There’s all sorts of actions you can take. But I would look at it from a perspective of integrity. It’s not – then you don’t have to kind of suffer. You can get what’s going to work. It’s not like, “Oh my God, I shouldn’t be upset about this.” No, no, no, you actually need a certain amount of hours, whatever that is. If you don’t get it all at once and you get three at a time, then swap, then you’ve got to do that so that you get whatever that six is.

Pete Mockaitis
So the themes here when you say integrity is just sort of work ability in your definition here, so it’s like we’ve got the stuff in play that just needs to be there in terms of the basic ingredients.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, the definition from – from our perspective integrity is being whole and complete. This case it has to do with your wellbeing. In a bicycle wheel analogy it’s all the spokes being there. If you’re not eating all day, that’s – your wellbeing is not whole and complete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Then in this specific instance, once we got clear on what it takes to be whole and complete, we explored options and some of the breakthrough possibilities are I guess considering new angles that extend beyond maybe constraints we just took for granted.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah. Like I know I can hear everything. I used to be able to sleep through an elephant stampede through my room when I was younger, but when I had kids, all of the sudden I hear them breathing literally from like 100 feet away.

I can hear everything, so I had to use ear plugs on the nights I would be sleeping because I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I heard them. Even though my husband was happy to take the night, I – it wasn’t working, so I had to get the earplugs so that I could actually sleep during the time when I had somebody available for me to sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, well that’s good. Thank you. We went deep on that, much appreciated.

Josselyne Herman
My pleasure. Listen, without sufficient sleep, you can become like a crazy person. I mean like literally it is required for you to have wellbeing. You must get sufficient sleep. If you get less than sufficient sleep for a couple nights in a row, it catches up with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I feel you there. Shifting a little bit back to the workplace environment. What are your top suggestions for professionals trying to get some of these great positive relationships and productive conversation and outputs flowing from themselves and their colleagues?

Josselyne Herman
Well, I think communication is the biggest key because without being in open communication, it’s very hard to get anything done with a group of people. Through communication, you can work out anything, including moving somebody to another company.

It’s like, if you withhold communication, things get tense. If you don’t say things, things get constrained and pretty soon you’re just not satisfied or fulfilled at work because there’s a lack of flow of communication.

I think that would be the number one thing that I would say people should keep in front of them is “Okay, what do I need to communicate? What do they need to communicate,” and actually be able to listen to employees or your employer or your team about what their vision is and what they need to fulfill and what they see as matters to them because it’s not just like a machine to get your vision completed.

It’s like, “Okay, now is this working for you? What’s missing? What could we elevate? What do we need to put in so that things work better?” I do that weekly with my team.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Could you give us another example or a story to make it all come to life in terms of “Hey, before this was going on and then we communicated in this way and then after, here’s what happened?”

Josselyne Herman
Well, I can tell you just what I’m dealing with right now with my mother. My sister lives in a different state, so we don’t see each other that much. We’ve been dealing with this sort of remotely and I’m a little bit closer to it geographically.

When my father would tell me, “Oh, this is what’s happening with her.” I’d be like, “What do you mean?” Then I’d start reacting to what my father’s telling me. Meanwhile, I’m not even talking to my sister. I’m talking to my father about his version of what she’s say – it was all discombobulated.

Then I finally just got on the phone with my sister. I said, “I need to know that we’re on the same page here about what we’re doing with mom because it sounds like you want something else.” She’s like, “What do you mean?” I go, “Well, what do you want? What is it that you want for mom?”

Then she told me and that was completely different from what I was interpreting from what I was hearing her and my father talk about. Then I said, “Okay, well here’s what I want.” Then we said, “Okay, well, let’s look at how we can accomplish this.” It became very, very similar what we wanted but we were in a story that we wanted different things.

She thought I wanted to take her out of this rehab center immediately. I thought she wanted to leave her there for a month. It was like just two ships passing in the night and not even making contact.

As soon as we … communication and made it real in our conversation and found out what was going on for each person, then we could get in collaboration to accomplish what we’re really committed to, which is my mother being well. That’s all we both want.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So the hang up there is rather than just going there in conversation, “What do you want? What do I want?” is just sort of like assumptions and stories that we’re inventing about other people.

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, and most of our assumptions don’t show up for us as assumptions. They show up for us as the truth. We don’t think we’re assuming because we’re like, “Well this is what they are. This is what they want. This is how they are,” rather than actually getting in communication to discover what somebody wants or who they are and what their dreams are or what their vision is or what their goals are.

We assume, well we know this is what they want. They don’t have to tell us. We know a lot, but knowing doesn’t translate to being. The work of Landmark is all about accessing being.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. Well, Josselyne, tell me, anything you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Josselyne Herman
Make sure you schedule a date night.

Pete Mockaitis
Noted. Thank you.

Josselyne Herman
Yes.

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

Josselyne Herman
Gandhi, that’s one of my favorite quotes is “Be the change you wish to see.” But Willy Wonka is my other favorite, which is, “We are the dreamer of dreams.” That is one of my favorite quotes. I love that movie.

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

Josselyne Herman
There’s a book called Black Box Thinking, which is very powerful, which has people look at failures and look at what was missing rather than living in a story that they’re a failure and able to then impact their performance and elevate their performance in that area. I think that’s a very powerful way of looking at life.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Josselyne Herman
Taking a hot shower at the end of the day to complete the day and just kind of shut down.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you mean at the end of the day like right before bed or the end of the workday?

Josselyne Herman
Yeah, right before bed.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Josselyne Herman
It actually, physiologically shuts your body down and has it ready for sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with people and they quote it back to you?

Josselyne Herman
Yes, yeah. Well, being unmessable with is sort of my little phrase that I’ve coined and started a campaign around to try and get that in the dictionary, but that’s – people know me for being unmessable with and being a Barry Manilow fan. I know. I admit it. I’m not ashamed.

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

Josselyne Herman
LandmarkWorldwide.com is the website for Landmark. There’s tons of videos and articles. I’m in many of them or the interview is conducted … them, but all of their forum leaders and really powerful tools for people who are committed to living an extraordinary life.

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

Josselyne Herman
Well, I would say don’t wait until someday. There’s no such thing. This is it. This is your life. If you’re not fulfilled and satisfied, take on living life now because it’s not going to happen any other time. This is it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well Josselyne, thanks so much for this. This was a fun little blast in the past for me, remembering some Landmark goodness. I wish you and Landmark all the best in what you’re up to.

Josselyne Herman
Thank you so much Pete and to you too. Again, treasure that family, but make sure you get a date night.

Pete Mockaitis
Got it.

Josselyne Herman
Okay. All right. Thanks so much for the opportunity.

237: Crafting Memorable Stories with Dr. Carmen Simon

By | Podcasts | One Comment

 

Carmen Simon says: "As a communicator, you're a choreographer of your audience's expectations."

Carmen Simon shows how to become impossible to ignore by integrating the right components to influence our audience’s minds.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three components of a good story
  2. Why causation in a story can be both sexy and tricky at the same time
  3. Why relatable emotions are more important than strong emotions

About Carmen 

Dr. Carmen Simon is a Cognitive Neuroscientist and Founder of Memzy. She has applied the latest neuroscience research findings to deliver workshops, design, and consulting services. Carmen is a published author and a frequent keynote speaker at conferences in the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. She holds doctorates in instructional technology and cognitive psychology, and uses her knowledge to offer business professionals a flashlight and a magnet: one to call attention to what’s important in a message, the other to make it stick to the audience’s brain so they can act on it. Carmen’s brain science coaching helps business professionals motivate listeners and stand out from too much sameness in the industry.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Carmen Simon Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Carmen, welcome back to the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Carmen Simon
Thank you. Thank you so much and welcome back, everyone.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s so fun. There’s only been about three guests who have done, well, exactly three, I believe, who have made a repeat appearance, so welcome. It’s cool to have you in the club here.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. And, you know, repetition is the mother of memory so repeated exposure with yet some statements that people remember.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is well-played. You know, Skype just informed me that your birthday is on New Year’s Day.

Carmen Simon
Oh, I wonder how it got that information. No, it’s actually equally cool birthday. I’m a Halloween baby.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding? Well, maybe you just set said, “Forget this, Skype. I’m not telling you my birthday. I’m filling in, oh, 1-01.”

Carmen Simon
Yes, it’s relinking this with the concept of memory. False memories are very much of a cautionary topic for all of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I was intrigued because our baby, the due date is January 1.

Carmen Simon
Oh, there you go. Always at the crossroads for new beginnings. That’s nice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I guess you’ll be unlikely to share a birthday with our child, but you’re still close in our hearts. It’s so sweet of you to ask for our wedding photo, and I sent you one very belatedly as well. I’ll follow with my thank you notes which is very belated.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you and congratulations. Once again what beautiful pictures.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And I just learned that you were once an interpreter at the UN. Can you tell us a bit about that experience, that story?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, what a great job to run the nest on. It wasn’t the Nicole Kidman type but operating in similar environments. So, at the time there was the Bosnia war going if you imagine. Remember the embargo that was placed over Bosnia, so the group that I was assigned to was constantly monitoring those borders and we would constantly do these Danube patrols and I got to work with a lot of CIA and FBI agents.

It was an intriguing part of my life. What I retained from it, speaking of memory, is that when memory is concerned, culture plays such a huge role because all of us have such different mental models through which we process our reality. So, I’m sure that all of our listeners have a different mental model as to how you use to spend your Christmases since we’re talking about Christmas before our show. And what your Christmas used to look like was very different than mine.

What’s a traditional Christmas for you, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is, well, midnight mass which is actually like at 10 p.m. or so and snickerdoodle cookies.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, there you go. So, if we’re doing the show to impart with our audience some practical guidelines on how to stay on other people’s memory which is the center of my research, what I remember from my interpreter days is that it was much easier to translate and be able to stay accurate to those people’s memories the more that I understood their mental models, so to the extent that I got to be in somebody’s shoes from Germany, or somebody’s shoes from Romania, or somebody’s shoes from France. The translation and the accuracy of those memories was much sharper.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, which languages were you interpreting?

Carmen Simon
I was interpreting English and French. Now, remember my roots go back to Romania so that’s another language that would belong in there. I could play in some Italian in the good old days so those were the languages that were operated back then at the borders.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s impressive. To have those languages, another feather in your cap as memory expert.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it’s very humbling because as I reflect on what makes something memorable, sensory stimulation is definitely one of the variables that you can use to stay on people’s minds. And when you translate something you can stay on the surface or you can go a little bit deeper in order to understand what you’re talking about. And I’m noticing that a lot of people forget things simply because we do stay on the surface all the time.

I’m working on some presentations with some executives just this week, and they’re asking me to create slides for them that express things like business optimization or an improved sales model. And unless you’re getting to those people’s shoes, very much like what we’re doing back then in our interpreting days for France or for England or for Germany, it’s very difficult to come up with something that is fresh and stimulating our senses.

Because if you just go to, let’s just say, stock photos and you type in sales optimization, what do you get? Yeah, you’d get those arrows pointing up and people shaking hands because a new deal has been closed. But how memorable are those?

Pete Mockaitis
Now I’m thinking of people dressed up in their business formal wear and suits just like sprinting around a racetrack. I don’t know.

Carmen Simon
Oh, they go from the racetrack to the top of the mountains, I’m sure you’ve seen those.

Pete Mockaitis
They’re not dressed right.

Carmen Simon
And a blank computer screen and just getting very excited, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so since we last spoke you started your own company, you’ve gone solo. It’s kind of like Justin Bieber or something, out of NSYNC. You got your own company now, it’s MEMZY. And what’s MEMZY all about?

Carmen Simon
MEMZY is all about using brain science research to help organizations create memorable content. So, if somebody is reflecting on their own messages, and they’re thinking, “Boy, we’re going to have a hard time expressing this and staying on people’s minds,” then it’s very useful to look at evidence-based guidelines to see what you can do in a more precise kind of way.

Because surely you may have some techniques that you’re using right now to create something that’s memorable. But are you sure that those render dividends or is it are you using those techniques simply because they may have worked in the past?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, intriguing. Intriguing. Well, now we’re back in Episode 11, if folks want to check out the original conversation that we had, and so there might be a couple things repeated, which is just fine for memory as you’ve made clear, but I also kind of want to chart a little bit of new territory. So, I understand that you’ve got some recent research about what it is within stories that make them more memorable than perhaps other stories.

Carmen Simon
I do. I just got so tired of hearing people saying, “Stories are memorable all the time.” Like whenever people talk about memory, and you tell them, “Hey, it’s good to make something memorable,” they immediately say, “Shouldn’t you share a story?” And, of course, the intuitive answer is, “Yes, definitely share a story.” But just because you do don’t think that that story will always be memorable or always be memorable long term.

So, through the research I did just that, I invited some people to first submit a series of stories, and I asked them to complete the sentence, “I will never forget,” and then fill in the blank. And some people went on for a few paragraphs, and some people went on for longer, some people went professional, some people went personal. Where do you think most of the people went though, personal or professional?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m guessing personal.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, most of the people who submitted their stories went to a personal space, and that was intriguing to me as a finding, too, by the way, because when your audiences are going to recollect their memories and, hopefully, you’re in there somewhere, they’re going to reach for the memory that comes to their minds more easily, that comes to their minds without much effort. And our personal memories quite often are probably a lot more effortless than the professional ones to recollect.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. And so, then what did you notice in terms of like the themes or patterns associated with the stories that folks will never forget?

Carmen Simon
Most of the stories had obviously some sort of an emotion or some contrast between a state versus another state where they ended up those weren’t necessarily surprising. What surprised me is when I gave these stories to various people to then read, and I asked them, “What is it that you remember from other people’s stories you see?” That’s when I wanted to see, “What’s the overlap? What’s stays in our minds from other people’s stories naturally without you trying too hard?”

So, two days later after these people read the initial stories, they received a survey that asked them, “What do you remember?” And I asked them a subsequent question, too, I said, “Now, please try a little bit harder,” exactly for this reason I’m mentioning that the brain is a cognitively lazy organ, and when we are asked a question, especially if we’re not immediately vested, which these people weren’t, we’re going to take the path of least resistance.

So, if I asked you, “What do you remember from your last day at work?” You might probably give me one or two things and not really try that hard. Is that true? Like what do you remember from your work last week?

Pete Mockaitis
Last week? It’s so funny. My temptation, talk about lazy, was to just get the mouse and move right over to the calendar and have it do the remembering for me.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, I’m not surprised. That’s what I noticed that that was one of the initial findings is that immediately, for question number two, which is where I’m asking people to, “Please try a little bit harder,” obviously those are more revealing answers than their original answer.

So, then the practical guideline that I would have for everyone listening to this is that, one, make sure that if you do have a story, it comes to your audiences’ minds easily, and then you reinforce is in some way if you want to stay there for a long period of time because those surface details are going to be gone very, very quickly. We tend to stay on the surface when recollecting things especially if the reward or if the goal for them to remember is not all that well-stated or not that strong.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s funny, now I’m thinking harder per your prompt. And the first thing that comes to mind is we had a podcast guest, Frances Cole Jones, and she sent an email out to her whole list which had her sporting the How to Be Awesome at Your Job podcast T-shirt, which I began sending to guests as a thank you. So, spoiler alert, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Nice. Well, see that’s a very smart technique, by the way, because if you want to make stories more memorable, and just any other type of communication more memorable, a good way to do it is to send something that would then trigger people’s memories in some way when you’re not even in the room, so you’re doing it right.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, I guess what made the reason that’s so memorable, it’s like, “Well, shucks, I’ve sent out many, many T-shirts,” and I’ve seen some people post on Twitter, like, “Hey, thanks for the shirt. It’s cool.” But it’s like, “Oh, there’s something quite public into the whole email list. What a treat just in terms of being a generous, kind promotional move on her part that is supportive of what I’m doing over here.”

Carmen Simon
Congratulations! Congratulations!

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Yeah. So, okay, so then we talked about state changes and we talked about I guess noteworthiness is what I noticed. So, what are some of the other ingredients that make them memorable?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, we’re talking about the cognitive ease, so make sure that whatever you’re sharing with your audiences will come to their minds easily.

Pete Mockaitis
But what makes it easy versus hard?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly, so then we have to ask the question, “Well, what happens if we don’t have the chance to ask somebody else to try harder to remember us?” because we don’t always have that luxury. And then the question still becomes, “What comes to people’s minds so effortlessly that they don’t even have to think so hard?”

And one of the items is one that we touched upon a little bit earlier which is this strong sensory stimulation. Like, for example, there was one gentleman who contributed a story when he remembered going to Kenya to fix some electricity-related devices. And he was invited at this family and he had brought them a bottle of Coke. And that family, and according to their tradition, whenever you got a gift you had to then share it with everybody else.

And he remembers in details going up the hill to this hut and it was something that was built in mud, you know those mud huts. He remembers distinctly the mother and the father and the small kid, and even the grandmother that was sitting on this piece of log and she had glaucoma. And he remembers the holes in this kid’s clothes that were stapled so that there wouldn’t be holes anymore.

But the emotion that stood out for him was the fact that these people only had a bottle of Coke, which they had not had for maybe a year before, and they wanted to share with him, and he didn’t even like Coke and it was a warm bottle of Coke. But yet they convinced him to drink some of it, and you take a few sips and then you pass it onto the next person who also take a few sips, and he thought that was the greatest gift he had ever received from a family who pretty much had nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s powerful. And so, then the Coke is right there. We got the red, we got the white visually, we’ve got the taste itself wrapped up in emotion.

Carmen Simon
Exactly. And then you can almost see like those holes on the clothes that are stapled shut, and you can see the mud hut, and the way that he was expressing it was so visual that later on when I was looking at people’s responses, and I knew that a few of them had read his story, those details were remarked in people’s responses. That’s such a luxury for anyone these days to stay on people’s minds days after you have shared this stimulus. That’s huge.

And the advice then that I have for everyone listening is to look at your communication and ask, “How strong of a mental picture are you painting in your audiences’ minds?” Because, quite often, we become forgettable simply because our communication is so darn abstract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s excellent. And so, then I’m thinking right now, as you talk about some clients working with like business process optimization, I guess that seems pretty abstract, but if maybe we’re talking about, I don’t know, logistics or delivery, if you tell a story of a customer who was blown away by receiving that package, I don’t know, like the very next day and they were able to, I don’t know, redecorate the house or serve a patient in the hospital, like something I guess visually that they’re then doing with that product and how the speed made a difference. I’m just sort of grasping here. But I imagine that goes a lot farther than saying, “We’re dropping our average ship time from 2.1 days to 1.4 days.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you can still show both. I’m not saying then sacrifice one at the expense of another. In fact, a question that I get quite often when it comes to storytelling is, “What’s the difference between storytelling and facts?” And we can’t really approach the question that way because facts can still be parts of stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Carmen Simon
Facts are, I would define them as zoomed-in stories because if I were to categorized all the findings from the research, a story is based on three components. There is a perceptive component in which we can include that sensory stimulation I was sharing with you; we can include a strong context because when I said Kenya you can kind of knew where to go; and we can include action across time. So, all of this are perceptive things, things that you can sense with your senses.

Another component is a cognitive one, and facts go in there and meanings and abstracts, so that’s where business people thrive. We enjoy the fact and we enjoy extracting some conclusions from what we say, and those are great. But quite often I think at the expense of the perceptive, we don’t help our audience’s brains to build these strong mental pictures and then we wonder why people forget those facts because they didn’t really know how to imagine those.

And then the third one is, of course, the affective component which is where emotions and motivations and aspirations would go.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, can you give us maybe some pro tips to enhancing each of these dimensions?

Carmen Simon
Yes. For the perceptive one, definitely go towards the language that stimulates the senses and keeps us alert. So, the more you can make people see what you saw and hear what you heard, and then almost enable touching what you touched, then that strong language would definitely reside in people’s memories a lot stronger.

And, also for the perceptive, don’t forget the action across time. You cannot have a story unless things progress across time, and in business content, hardly anything ever happens. In fact, it’s surprises me when people say, “Oh, just come to our organization and help us tell our story better.” And then I’ll ask, “Well, so what is your story?”

And they will say, “We are founded in this year, and we have this many customers, and we have noticed these trends in the industry, and as a result we have developed this amazing web architecture.” You know, everybody has an amazing web architecture these days, “And we have done this and this other thing.” But there’s’ nothing really in a progression across time that is a mandatory component of a story.

Like if we were to talk about business stories, for instance, I remember the woman who invented spandex. For all the women listeners, I’m sure that everyone has heard of the product. And when she’s interviewed and you go online and you read her stories, you hear how, at first, she started in her own apartment, and how she was trying on things in the bathroom, and how she was experimenting things in the kitchen, and then she tried to get a meeting with somebody at Neiman Marcus, and the meeting was going poorly until she convinced one of those executives to go with her to the bathroom and try this product on under some white pants.

And from then on, she wore those white pants for three years to convince many other people to buy into the product. So, see how things just progress across time. First this happened, then this happened, and as a result this other thing happened. So, we go from A to B to C and each is a consequence of the previous stage, and that’s the mandatory component of a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, so I’m interested. When it comes to, say, like a business telling a story, a lot of times it’s about growth, “We had this many units or this much revenue, and now we have these many units and this much revenue and it’s much bigger.” And so, but in a way, those aren’t really actions. It’s just sort of an output or measurement. And so, how would you maybe make that translation?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so if we’d go from that list of facts, because if you’re saying, “In 2016 we sold these many units, and in 2017 we sold these many units, and therefore we have grown by this percentage,” that’s almost kind of an action because you would have to make it show, “How did you get to point B as a result of point A?” Was it somebody that you hired?

Because, imagine if you said, “In 2016 we sold this, and then we hired this amazing VP of sales. I mean, this guy, he used to work for such and such. And then he sold his company, and then he did some other things. And then he moved to the US, and despite his accent he created all these relationships, and did this and this other thing. And as a result, then here we are 2017 with an increased in this.” So, see how now you’re showing how B is a result of A.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly, “Or that individual customers were so delighted that they shared stories like so and so from Mississippi who put this on her Facebook and sort of shares of that nature just naturally resulted in so many more people buying it, and thusly we have this number of units now.”

Carmen Simon
Yeah, and you would have to be careful about showing causation which it’s a tricky thing because causation is what we would consider, from a storytelling perspective, a plot. So, you’re saying if your customer has posted such and such on Facebook, and then somebody else saw it and as a result they, too, purchased the product. And then they went to another customer, and as a result of that then this is what happened.

And sometimes, especially when we deal with technology-oriented things or science-oriented products, people are so afraid of causation that they will only stick to just a list of facts, inviting the audience to draw their own conclusions, and because we’re saying the audience has such a cognitive lazy inclination anyway, they may not often make that leap. So, not only are you less persuasive but you’re not really sharing a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. So, then, the key distinction there is that, you’re saying, be careful of causation and don’t sort of say it’s because of it, but share what happened. Let’s see, set me straight here, Carmen.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, well, causation is sexy and tricky at the same time. Causation is what enables you to fully stay truthful to a story in a sense of A caused B which then caused C, but then having the boldness and the accuracy to make a causation statement, that’s where it’s at.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Carmen Simon
Do you have what it takes to stand behind your causation? That’s the question I would ask anyone listening. Because, for example, some of my clients are from the biotech industry, and when they try to sell a specific product to a doctor’s office they have to be cautious about saying, “You will get this product, and as a result, for sure, this is what’s going to happen.”

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. So, you don’t say it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, it doesn’t mean that you always have to share a story, by the way. So, if that’s your field and you’re afraid of causation, you don’t necessarily have to go there, but then don’t claim you’re telling stories.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, it’s just about saying that it caused it as opposed to sharing a sequence of events that imply it.

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. All right. I’m with you. Tracking along. Thank you. Okay. So, then how about the affective component?

Carmen Simon
Yes, so the cognitive we have no problems with because facts and abstracts definitely dominate. For the affective component, I think one of the biggest insights that I got from this study were that just having the presence of emotions still doesn’t guarantee memory. Sometimes that’s another statement that I hear made very frequently, “Oh, if you want to have something memorable, and especially a memorable story, you definitely have to always have emotion.” Not true.

For instance, people will say, “Oh, stories like 9/11, or the Space Challenger disaster, or Oklahoma bombing, those, of course, will be memorable.” Not that fast. For example, in some of the groups that I had designed in my study, people read a 9/11 story, people read a Space Challenger story but they also read stories like, “I will never forget the time when my co-worker complimented me on LinkedIn. It was just such a touchy message, I had posted this, and then they reacted like that, and then I said this. And that just meant a lot to me in my career,” or something along those lines.

Or, “I will never forget my cousin’s wedding because this is what happened.” And those things were a lot more memorable than the world’s history stories, so to speak, even though the emotion was not as strong but it was more relatable, you see. So, if you ever have the choice, and you’re looking at your content and you’re thinking, “Boy, my content is kind of dry. I could never match the emotion of a disaster or something that just happened. Everybody paid attention to it.” Don’t even worry about it because relevance quite often trumps emotion.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Interesting. So, could you maybe help us tie this all together in terms of maybe sharing a couple examples of messages or stories transformed sort of before from one of your clients, and then you did some tweaks and reframing and communicating it differently to an after that had such a greater impact in memorability?

Carmen Simon
Well, let’s look at this one that I’m working on this week, and it’s not finalized but I think all of our listeners are going to be able to relate to it. So, the before version comes across like this. “Welcome, everyone. We’ve had an interesting and challenging 2017. It’s prompting me to remember why is it I’m working at this place anyway. And I’ve worked here because of some professional opportunities that we all have. It’s also the right timing because the technologies that are happening in the field are just at the right intersection,” and so it goes, and so it goes from fact to fact to fact to fact which is just assumed in story as we said.

The recommendations that I’m making and the after example is going to include something along the lines, “Okay, we have had a challenging 2017, and it’s prompting me to reflect why am I working at this company. Well, it’s a wonderful professional opportunity. And what do I mean by this? I remember a time when I was looking for the intersection of just the right technologies, and I was working for this company and this other executive walked in and he said this to me. And then that’s how I reacted, and that’s when I realized that things were a little bit different, and then I read this other article.”

And see how I’m going with, “This is what’s happening,” and the more I zoom in and the sensory details are stronger, and he’s able to show pictures of his older executive office, so we can see him working for that company and as he moved to another company. So, now it becomes more become sensory intense and things that happened and then caused another thing and they caused another thing, and now we can abstract it out and say, “It was a great professional opportunity.”

Or in the initial, let’s call a story between quotes, he’s talking about coming to work to this company because he wanted to work with people he could trust. Notice how abstract that is. But in the after version, I’m prompting him to say, “Well, so who is that?” So, he’s showing some other guy’s picture and how he served as a best man at his wedding, so we’re killing two birds with that stone because not only is he now showing some sensory stimulation that’s stronger because, “I enjoy seeing the pictures of the wedding and the champagne and people dancing,” but the emotion is now present.

Because it’s one thing to say, “I’m working here with people that I can trust,” and it’s just an abstract concept, but another to see them hugging and see them in their suits and see them in such a nice human-like moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. And so, you’re bringing up the usage of visuals, of slides, which I think can really be helpful because I think sometimes I might feel, perhaps, a little bit awkward going too big and using my words to try to paint an imagery picture like, “Oh, someone fancies himself a novelist over there.” Whereas you could say, “And he was the best man at my wedding,” and then you show an image, and they go, “Oh, that’s the wedding.” And so, then, you can go a long way by bringing those visuals in, even of the desk, of the workplace, of the wedding.

Carmen Simon
So true. And the nice thing about being able to do that is then, obviously, those pictures are also going to add the extra words that are even unspoken so you can get a lot more done in a short period of time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Well, I was going to go there next in terms of trying to make an impact with a story I think that’s a concern some might say, “You know, well, I’ve got exactly three minutes or five minutes of time to make these points. I don’t have time to go down and make a story especially with all these impactful affective details that you’re describing.” So, what are some of the ways to get some of that goodness in a shorter period of time? One is by using visuals or slides. Any other tips there?

Carmen Simon
I really like that question because you’re so right, people are concerned that they don’t have enough time to share stories. And for any of our listeners who are married, and sometimes they get their spouse’s reaction, it’s like, “Come on, get to the point. I don’t have time for all of these details.”

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve never said that. One year in, I’ve managed to not say that.

Carmen Simon
You just recently got married. You just give it a few years.

Pete  
Okay.

Carmen Simon
But executives and some other business audience may have a similar reaction, “Just get to the point.” And so, one of the ways that you could still want to share a story, but you’re afraid that you don’t have enough time, the advice would be to earn the right to tell the details.

And the way to do that is to respond first to people’s expectations. And as we said, facts are just zoomed-in stories, and if your audiences are indeed expecting facts at first then give those first. So, if I’m presenting to some executives and they do want to hear about the growth that has happened in the past two years and they want to see some charts, that’s my intro. I’m not going to start with, “It was a dark and stormy night, and the clouds were just approaching, and I knew something drastic was going to happen.” You see?

But if I share with you the right amount of information that you expect, then I’m earning the right for a few more minutes of some other details, and then I can say, “The reason that we got to these numbers is because of that one dark stormy night when you would not believe what happened.” So, as a communicator, you’re a choreographer of your audience’s expectations. See to those first and then you earn the right for a few extra minutes where you can fill in the details that would make it a story.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Very good. Any other perspectives on the time perspective?

Carmen Simon
Yes. So, obviously, time would be correlated with the length of a story. What I noticed in my study was that there is such a thing as too short of a story beyond which it becomes forgettable. And the length that I noticed people that they remember stories, the sweet spot, was somewhere around 600 words which would be about two or three paragraphs, and I would always suggest that if you want to have a memorable story, write it down first and then make sure that you say it verbally so that you don’t sound as if you’re too scripted. You still speak it. It’s not a story meant for writing.

But 600 to about 900 words if you want to be a really polished storyteller because, otherwise, you won’t be having the opportunity to do justice to a context to those sensory details, or build some of those emotions in there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, now, Carmen, I love it when you drop a number. That’s intriguing. So, 600 to 900 words is a sweet spot there. We’re talking about memory and stories and memorability and this good stuff. Are there any other kind of key rules of thumb or numbers that leap to mind?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, let’s look at this concept of the emotion just a little bit more closely because I think it’s so widely misunderstood when it comes to memory. Emotion, when you’re kind of disconcerting, come from three sources. It can come from the nature of the content, because if you’re talking about medicine or people in Kenya, immediately the nature of the content draws an emotion.

But sometimes, in business, we don’t have the luxury of that. We talk about, like you said, trucks or web architectures or predictive analytics. Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of emotion inherently associated with our content. So, then, what do you do, because you still need some emotion to make something memorable?

And the other two sources can be your audience can be a source of emotion. So, if you’re talking to people who are extremely invested in a topic, who are either elated or upset, they bring their own emotions that then contribute to the formation of some memories, or you can be the source of emotion as the transmitter of that message.

For example, while I was listening to these people talk about predictive analytics a few months back, and they were the most excited about this product and this technology that I had ever seen. I could have listened to those guys go on forever about predictive analytics. So, as you’re pondering your own question or your own content, question the chemistry that you have with your own content because when that chemistry is there, then you can be the source of emotion, and immediately you’re going to have an increased chance at memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Well, Carmen, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Carmen Simon
Oh, my favorite things. Let’s see, anything related to memory. Since we’re talking about emotion, another reminder that I would have for our listeners is that what we remember is not necessarily the emotion itself. We remember quite often the transition from one emotional state to another. And the sharper the contrast the stronger the emotions.

So, for example, let’s just say that I shared with you that I fell off a bike and, obviously, that’s a negative emotion. But then if I said, “I fell off a bike and then got ran over by a car,” see how you reacted, and that’s when the memory got formed, because the first one, yeah, I had some emotion but the sharper the contrast between two emotional states that you’re creating for your audiences then the stronger the memory.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s potent. It’s so funny, I was imagining that you’re going to contrast by going to something really happy, but then you just went to extra, extra bad.

Carmen Simon
Yes, you can go positive and then double positive. Like if I said, “I went to Vegas and I won 50 bucks. And then I pressed a button and next I won 50 million,” that you probably created a memory just now because you went just super, super, super happy. But then you can go the other way of negative to quadruple negative, and that’s how memories are formed.

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

Carmen Simon
Ooh, a favorite quote. Let’s just see. Just the other day I saw this thing on the internet, and you know we believe everything that we read on the internet, but this quote just really resonated with me. It said, “You have survived a 100% of your worst days. You’re doing great.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is nice. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Carmen Simon
Ooh, let’s see. A favorite book that I just bought and just started reading is called Supercasting. I’m intrigued by this notion that the brain is constantly on fast-forward as you can imagine, and some people can predict better than others, what gets us to be better predictors.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say predict, you mean just in terms of what is going to happen next in your environment?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, intriguing. Thank you.

Carmen Simon
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Carmen Simon
Oh, a tool. I have to admit that someone just ordered the iPhone X, and they returned it so that’s not going to be a favorite tool. I’m curious as to why that happened. I do like this flashlight that I just got that has different settings depending on how dark or so kind of almost light it is outside. Have you seen those flashlights?

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’s sensing the environment and adjusting its light?

Carmen Simon
Yeah, yeah, small things. Small pleasures.

Pete Mockaitis
Nice. Thank you. And then how about a favorite habit?

Carmen Simon
A favorite habit is hiking at the end of a full workday.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful.

Carmen Simon
In search of a beautiful view, because you just can’t be hiking. You have to hike with a purpose.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget you’ve been sharing recently at MEMZY that seems to really be connecting and resonating with your clients?

Carmen Simon
A particular…

Pete Mockaitis
Just something that you say or share in your work with clients.

Carmen Simon
Oh, yes, there is. The line that people seem to resonate with and remember is this notion that as we are exposed to content we forget about 90% of that stimulation, so it’s important to control the 10% they remember. So, that has become a favorite mantra, and quite often when people come back to me and they talk to me, they’ll say, “Let me share with you what my 10% message is to my own clients,” and that warms my heart because when they mention that phrase, “What is my 10% or my 10% message is,” then I know I’m able to stay on their minds and that’s a challenge that I share with all of the listeners today. What is your 10%? And are you in control of that?

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

Carmen Simon
MEMZY.com, M-E-M-Z-Y, and the Twitter handler is @areyoumemorable, and of course LinkedIn Carmen Simon. I’d love to stay in touch and I would want to hear what is your 10% message that you want to put on other people’s minds.

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

Carmen Simon
Yes, the challenge would be that of precision because we cannot ultimately control everything that goes on in people’s minds, and sometimes we want to overshare. So, I would say don’t attempt to get people to remember more but get them to remember less and better.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, Carmen, this has been a whole lot of fun all over again. Thank you and good luck with MEMZY and all you’re up to.

Carmen Simon
Thank you so much. Thank you, Pete. You do the same.

194: How to Write like Warren Buffett with Elaine Bennett

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Elaine Bennett says: "We remember things much more clearly when they're presented to us in story form."

Elaine Bennett shares how to write better business messages with greater clarity and personality.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two essential pieces of information you need to be a more effective writer
  2. How you can make a bigger impact with storytelling
  3. Winning ways to turn straight thinking into straight writing

About Elaine

Elaine Bennett had a baptism by fire as a speechwriter. Less than two years after she signed on to write for the CEO of Salomon Brothers, scandal forced the executive to resign. In stepped investor Warren Buffett. Since working with Mr. Buffett, Elaine Bennett has continued putting words in the mouths of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and leading nonprofits. She unearths the stories behind business data and helps executives shape those stories into memorable messages. She also coaches individual professionals looking to develop executive-caliber communication skills.

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