I have exciting news! Today I launched my new podcast, “Speaking to Influence: Communication Secrets of the C-Suite”!


In each episode, I have the pleasure of interviewing senior executives from every industry imaginable, both for-profit and non-profit, specifically to discuss the role communication plays in their personal success as inspiring leaders, and the overall success of their organizations.


The starting lineup includes brilliant, witty, and generously informative guests including:

  • Ellen Weber – Executive Director, Robin Hood Ventures (Angel Investor Group)
  • Michael Houlihan – Co-Founder, Barefoot Wines and Founder of Business Audio Theater
  • Eric Griffin – Co-Founder, Mobile Outfitters
  • Paul Redman – CEO, Longwood Gardens
  • Tracy Flanagan – Co-Founder, J-Dog (Veteran) Brands
  • Marcia O'Connor – CEO, the O'Connor Group (HR Solutions)
  • Paul Isenberg – Founder, Bringing Hope Home (Helping families of cancer victims)

And that's just Week 1! As a matter of fact, Ellen and Michael's interviews are up and ready to go!










They'll share stories and advice including:

  • Who they need to influence now and skills they had to learn to do it successfully
  • Mistakes they made along the way and how you can avoid making them
  • How they define “executive presence” and what they look for when hiring or promoting others
  • Advice about confident public speaking
  • Whether they're an introvert or extravert and why that matters
  • Strategies for conflict management
  • and more!

It's an up close and personal “behind the scenes” look into what it takes to get to the top and succeed there, beyond technical expertise. Because let's face it, even if you think the quality of your work should speak for itself… IT DOESN'T!


PLUS — You know me, whether I'm training a team, on stage in front of thousands or on either side of an interview, I like to have FUN, and so do my guests. We have a great time and the conversation just flies by!

And don't forget — be sure to SUBSCRIBE ON ITUNES so you never miss an episode!


While you're there, please rate and review it too! (Five-star ratings are my personal favorite… just sayin'…) 😉


Then spread the word and SHARE the LOVE by forwarding the links to your social media connections.


As always, THANK YOU so much for all your support, and I hope you enjoy learning from these experts as much as I did. I look forward to your feedback.


How to Make Video Conferences Fun

Video conferences don't need to be a total drag. Here are seven fun “ice breakers” to start the meeting off with a smile:


  1. ‘Fess Up: You look all business from the waist up, but what's on your feet? Everyone show your fuzzy socks, bunny slippers, flip flops or whatever is (or isn't) covering the toes.
  2. Silver Linings: What unexpected blessing has come out of this whole “social distancing” situation? More time to play with kids/pets? No commute/traffic? Daily walks? There is goodness to be found if you're willing to recognize it.
  3. Hat Day: Represent your favorite sports team or university, or be silly and wear a birthday hat, ski hat with requisite pompom, sombrero, bicycle helmet… that's using your head!
  4. Bottoms-up: what's your beverage of choice? Coffee, tea, juice, etc. Bring it in your favorite mug or bottle for show and tell.
  5. Say Cheese: Share a photo of your family, pets, friends, or whoever (or whatever) makes your heart happy. Want to take it up a notch? See #6 below.
  6. “Bring your kid/pet to work” day: Okay, maybe not for the whole meeting, but heck, they're beating down your door looking for your attention anyway! Let them say hi to the group.
  7. That's Entertainment: What tv show or movie have you recently watched that you would recommend to others looking for that next binge-worthy plot or family movie night?


These little shared moments aren't just fun, they give us a chance to bond with each other in ways we probably wouldn't even have done in person, and remember that there is a whole person on the other side of that screen. (What a thought!)


What other ideas do you have? Please share them with me and keep the smiles coming,

5 Tips for a Successful Video Conference

In the wake of the coronavirus and sudden need for teams to work remotely, the occasional disembodied conference call isn't going to cut it. For team cohesion, moral, clarity of communication and more, people are being forced out of their comfort zones and learning to use video conferencing for regular communication. Unfortunately, lack of strategy and skill for running video meetings can make for an experience that is both inefficient and painful, and reflects badly on leadership. That's why I'm offering organizations a live interactive virtual training with five key strategies to confidently run an effective video conference.**

But in case your organization isn't offering the full training, here's a synopsis video, followed by a few key points that anyone can use:

1. Mindset

 Acknowledge the elephant in the room with your team from the start: Nobody likes looking at themselves on camera! Take the meeting seriously but don't take yourselves TOO seriously, and commit to all stepping out of the comfort zone together.

2. Technology

Practice using your organization's platform (Zoom, Skype, WebEx etc.) several times ahead of time to get comfortable with the buttons and functions, and test your camera, mic and speakers in advance; tech glitches can derail the meeting before it starts, and if you are fumbling around or otherwise look uncertain at the start of the meeting, you undermine your own authority. Secret tip: Aim the camera so you take up the WHOLE screen; don't have half the screen looking at your ceiling while you're just a little talking head way down at the bottom. Otherwise you give away your power by appearing small and timid, and it just looks silly!

3. Screen-sharing and Slides

Create PPT slides to maximize engagement by having MORE slides with LESS content on each so you click and change the visual as frequently as possible. That way the audience has to pay attention or they'll miss something, and are less likely to “multitask” (i.e. pay attention to everything but you!)

4. Sounding natural rather than canned

Remember, it's just a conversation! Look at their faces and talk to them like they're in the room with you. If you have to do any asynchronous video recordings (e.g. news blasts to a larger audience that they'll watch at their convenience rather than live) it can feel like you're talking to yourself, so try taping a picture of friends or family (someone that makes you smile or feel comfortable) up by the camera lens and talk to them instead.

5. Managing Participation and Engagement

Set behavioral expectations in advance. Ask everyone to silence phones and put them out of view, and close or minimize email windows to minimize temptation and distraction. Put it in writing along with the agenda via email before the meeting, and announce it formally at the start of the meeting. Then show everyone that you're doing it in real time, and ask them to take those steps with you, committing to being present and focused for the duration of the meeting.

These should help you take a HUGE leap forward, getting organized and building confidence to project the leadership you want others to see, and setting the course for maximizing the value of the time you all spend together while strengthening your relationships in the process.


(**If you're interested in having me lead the full virtual training for your organization, or work with you on mastering these skills and more, please email me at

Lessons in Leadership Branding from Debate 11

And then there were two…


Despite the fact that in two hours neither Bernie Sanders nor Joe Biden shared anything new regarding their platforms or policies, last night’s Democratic primary debate did give them each enough time to show what they’re each made of, what kind of opponent they would be up against President Trump, and what kind of president they’d be if they actually made it to the White House. And of course, teach us some important lessons in leadership communication.


In the end, both candidates’ performances also answered one crucial question in everyone’s mind: “What matters most to you in a candidate?” But we’ll get to that later.


The Big Three lessons were the importance of being able to:

  • Get to the point
  • Graciously give (and receive) credit
  • Project your desired brand.


Let’s break them down one by one.


Get to the point


The topic of the coronavirus hung over everyone’s head, and bookended the debate as the topic of the first several questions and the closing prompt. However, even though I took detailed notes on what each candidate said, unless I look back at what I wrote, I don’t remember any of it.




Because both people rambled on in a quasi-memorized stream of consciousness, and nothing stood out. This is a perfect example of where just a few select, repeated (you know you’re waiting for me to say it) “tweetable and repeatable” sound bites would have been both powerful and memorable.


Above, I gave you my “Three big lesson” topics in short, to-the-point phrases; if you want to tell someone else about them, you can easily remember and recite those phrases verbatim. The candidates KNEW the coronavirus topic was coming. Why couldn’t they distill their core, priority messages down to something like:

  • “We’re going to (1) control the spread,
  • (2) provide immediate, free, virus-related healthcare, and
  • (3) protect your jobs and income.”


Sure, they can then go into detail about what that all means, but those are concepts people get. Both candidates discussed all of those issues, but not in such simple “table of contents” style phrases. They could even have simplified it to:

  • “I have a three-stage plan to deal with the coronavirus:
  • (1) immediate control and treatment
  • (2) short-term management (2-4 weeks)
  • (3) long-term stabilization and resilience.”

Again, it’s broad, but it prepares the listener for the categories of details they’re about to hear, which makes it easier to process, understand and remember.


As an aside, I’ll give Joe Biden a half-credit for one “tweetable and repeatable” phrase: As I’ve mentioned after recent debates, last night he said “I’m the guy who…” four times. Unfortunately, that’s about one tenth of the number of times he should have said it, given the number of references he made to his record and accomplishments. If he’s trying to establish himself as the one who has done it all before and will get it done again, this is a great phrase to paint the right picture in someone’s mind. FYI, Joe: It’s not enough to have a round in the chamber; you have to pull the trigger.


Give and Receive Credit


Grace and humility are hallmarks of strong leadership, not contraindicators or weaknesses, and one way to demonstrate these qualities are in the ability to give ad receive credit. Both candidates had the opportunity to do so on multiple occasions, and ironically, both candidates succeeded AND failed to do so over the course of the evening.


Leading the way in this case was Joe Biden. When talking about offering free public college tuition to students from families making less than $125k/year, Biden graciously gave credit to Sanders for spearheading that movement. However, Sanders neither thanked Biden for that acknowledgement nor reciprocated in any way, which is unfortunate but not surprising since Biden is in the lead, and Sanders probably was instructed to say only negative things about Biden in order to close the gap.


But then the tides turned when the topic switched to the issue of “praising dictators.” Sanders acknowledged objective, statistical data that showed that over the years, China’s extreme poverty gap has lessened over the years. He very clearly and explicitly stated that his observation of that fact was in no way condoning the dictatorship that rules the Chinese government or the methods through which that achievement was attained. Biden, however, chose to go for optics, and kept framing it as “praising dictators,” as if trying to compare Sanders to Donald Trump, as the democrats have accused him of praising dictators in Russia, North Korea and elsewhere. It’s a shame, because it’s clear to anyone who was listening that Sanders wasn’t doing that at all. The question, of course, is who was really listening, and whose version they heard.


Why does this matter?


Because it is a glimpse into how well each candidate would be able to establish a working relationship with people across the aisle. Biden’s ability to give Sanders credit for a good idea, and Sanders’ ability to objectively acknowledge that China’s extreme poverty gap has lessened over the years (even if the ends do not justify the means) both show the ability to look at a situation objectively, not demand credit for everything or vilification of others to try to look good by comparison, and find ways to speak civilly and collaboratively with those with whom they don’t necessarily ideologically agree. A true leader – whether of a nation, a company, or even a scout troop – needs to be able to practice this and model it for others.


Project Your Desired Brand


In my book, Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice, I discuss the gap between how you want to come across and how you actually come across when you speak. In other words, it’s the difference between the brand you want, and the brand you actually have, and the way you speak will determine whether or not those brands are one and the same.


Last night, Biden and Sanders each projected a brand that offered different answers to the question: “What’s most important to you in a presidential candidate?”


Joe Biden’s overall performance (with the exception of the aforementioned “praising dictators” gimmick,) said to the audience: “If you are tired of divisiveness, want to restore civility to our government and country, and want a leader with a track record of getting things done, I’m your guy.”


He respected time limits, gave Sanders credit for a few things as mentioned above, and for the most part answered the questions directly. Aside from a few minor flubs (e.g. forgetting the word “Ebola virus” and referring to the swine flu as “N1H1” instead of H1N1) his answers were solid. He fought by the gentlemen’s rules, and many people would like to see a gentleman in the White House.


In contrast, Bernie Sanders’ overall performance, from start to finish, said to the audience: “If you want a fighter who can stand up to Donald Trump on stage and win – and then fight for you, and win – I’m your guy.”


He was doggedly tenacious in not only lobbing accusations of voting records at Biden, but asking him questions and not allowing Biden to side-step the answer, redirecting the discussion back to his initial questions over and over so as not to let Biden off the hook. He did not allow himself to be sidetracked, and at times had Biden backpedaling and on his heels, showing Sanders to be the more formidable opponent in that context. And for many voters, that’s all that matters.


Now the two questions to YOU are:

  1. Politics: What matters most to you in a candidate? (And does either candidate demonstrate it?)
  2. Personal leadership: What matters most to you AS a leader, and does your brand messaging convey it?

Messaging Pitfalls to Avoid: Lessons From the Dropouts

Einstein purportedly said, “The only rational way to educate is to be an example — a warning example, if not the other kind.”


Tomorrow is Super Tuesday, and as of this afternoon, three more candidates dropped out of the race for the Democratic nomination: Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Tom Steyer, and they all offer a crystal-clear warning example of what inspiring leadership does NOT sound like.


Now, I've given Senator Klobuchar the acid test on a number of occasions, so as far as I'm concerned, it was only a matter of time before she dropped out because the alignment between what she said and how she said it was so horrifically off that it perpetually undermined her authority with virtually every appearance she made.


But Mayor Pete and Mr. Steyer joined her on the exit ramp today because they all failed in the single most important test: Nobody knew what they would DO if elected president.


You can tell stories of your upbringing, your community, and your values, but ultimately, when you have a vision, you have to be able to distill it down to where people can easily (a) understand it, (b) remember it, and (b) repeat it to others, or you might as well not have it at all.


It's what I've been referring to as “tweetable and repeatable” sound bites. Yes, you should be able to explain the details at some point, but you need core campaign promises that paint a picture of how life would be different in your vision, and why people want to see that vision become a reality.


Then-candidate Donald Trump did this masterfully in 2016: “Build a Wall,” “Make America Great Again,” “Drain the Swamp” and others were crystal-clear outcome messages that both proponents and opponents alike instantly understood. It's the answer to the prompt, “If you forget everything else I say, remember THIS...”


Notice that he didn't have these messages for every single platform issue like education and gun control. They were signature issues that defined his campaign, and he worked them into every answer possible, so when you heard his name, you automatically thought of those outcomes. You believed that his election would result in those changes, period, like it or not.


To date, no Democratic candidate has done this in their campaign, so why are the other candidates still in the race, but these three dropped out? Simple: the others started with more name recognition, money and clout. It was up to the newcomers and lesser-knowns to close the gap when starting from behind, and “tweetable-and-repeatable” campaign messaging would have done that, especially if the frontrunners still did NOT have any such strategy. It was their race to lose. But they ALL failed this particular test, so they cancelled out the variable, and the people who started ahead, stayed ahead by default.


How does this apply to us?


Whether you're giving a presentation to an internal/external client, speaking to the board, pitching an idea to your boss or otherwise trying to persuade, you can give all the details you need, but ultimately, distill it down to a few key “tweetable-and-repeatable” take-aways that crystalize the “so what” of your pitch.


Think of it this way: If your audience needs to go back and discuss your pitch among themselves, or share it with their higher-ups or decision-making body, you can't expect them to remember every detail you said, especially if you spoke for an hour but they only have five minutes to relay your big take-aways in their next meeting (in which you will NOT be present). So if you think you CAN'T summarize your main take-aways in a few concrete bullet phrases, how can you expect them to accurately and compellingly do so? You need to effectively spoon-feed them the framing that you want them to convey to others, to keep the message accurate and the brand consistent.


So with that three-way warning example, I challenge the remaining candidates (and their campaign strategy teams) to get their acts together, get clear on their messages, and prove that they aren't going to hand President Trump another four years by default.

Three Crucial Leadership Communication Lessons from Debate #10


Ten rounds of debate into the Democratic primary and my overall reaction to last night’s debate was: disappointment.  Nobody truly stood out, and the overall environment was chaotic and unpleasant to listen to and watch.


But most mind-bogglingly (yes, that’s a word), nobody used ANY tweetable-and-repeatable refrains, despite the fact that yesterday morning I sat there with @Jillian Mele on #Fox & Friends First, where they had taken my previous analysis of Debate Round 9 and broken it down into on-screen graphics, candidate by candidate, to outline what I said each person needed to do to break ahead. Yes candidates, #FoxNews, of all networks, made you a step-by-step playbook on how to win, and you STILL blew it. Congratulations, you’re paving the way for President Trump’s reelection in November.


HOWEVER – in looking a bit more closely, three critically important leadership communication skill sets stood out to me, which we can also apply in our own lives:


  1. Talking about your strengths without sounding arrogant
  2. Giving credit where credit is due
  3. Facilitating discussions with a group of “Type A” personalities and egos


Let’s break those down and look at where they were most – or least – effectively demonstrated in last night’s debate.


Talking about your strengths without sounding arrogant


I work with a lot of people on networking and interviewing skills, and one of the most common issues many people – especially women and people from cultures that prize humility as a core value – tend to struggle with is the question of how to talk about yourself and your accomplishments without sounding like you’re bragging.


The simple answer is: Use nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs.


What I mean by that is that if you describe yourself with lots of subjective adjectives like “I’m great at business development” people are likely to be skeptical. In contrast, if you simply identify objective actions and achievements, e.g. “I grew the sales team from ten to fifteen people and led the team to a 250% increase in revenue over 18 months,” then the listener is likely to think, “Wow, this person is really great at business development.” Naturally, they’re much more likely to believe their own assessment of your greatness than yours. Lead them to draw the conclusion for themselves, don’t feed it to them. Assuming your delivery isn’t too melodramatic like you’re trying to impress them with the stats, you won’t sound like you’re bragging at all.


There were several great examples of how to do this well – or not – last night. First, Joe Biden was particularly good at listing his litany of accomplishments regarding bills he’d passed with President Obama, and it never once sounded arrogant. It was simply his resume, plain and simple. (If he had only prefaced them with his Round 9 refrain, “I’m the guy who…” it would have been so much more impactful.)


A more subtle – though equally crucial – example is the contrast in closing statements of Tom Steyer, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. The final question of the night asked the candidates to share a common misconception about them. The answers were telling.


Tom Steyer said that a common misconception is that he is defined by business and money. This is a reasonable point to address because it allows him to explain where people are understandably drawing incorrect conclusions about him based on certain facts. Yes he has a lot of money and business experience, but he explained that it has allowed him to have a deeper understanding of what does and doesn’t work for the country and inspired him to run for president, to make a positive change. He focused on reinterpreting the same facts that others had misinterpreted. He set the record straight, no bragging involved.


Pete Buttigieg also was effective this way. He said a misconception about him is that people think he’s not passionate simply because they see him as “unflappable” (I’ve used that word about him and Tulsi Gabbard myself.) Unpassionate and unflappable are other people’s interpretations of his more even-keeled behavior in debates. He was able to set the record straight by addressing the objective behaviors – remaining calm and in-control without resorting to yelling and personal attacks even under pressure – and reinterpreting them for people. Once again, no bragging involved.


Amy Klobuchar, on the other hand, has crossed this line in the wrong direction in virtually every debate. Among her many infractions of this sort, last night she said the misconception about her was “that I’m boring, because I’m not.” Oh, Amy. “Boring” is not an interpretation of data, it’s an opinion. That’s totally different.


I don’t happen to think that Ben Stiller movies are funny, and even though I’m probably in the minority on that issue, it’s still just my opinion. You can tell me why you disagree, but you can’t “prove” me wrong in a way that will actually make me laugh while watching his movies – at least the ones I’ve already seen. If people think you’re boring, then that’s their opinion of you, period. You have to do something different that they will find interesting to change their minds, not just tell them that they should. It’s like the nerd on the playground running up to the jocks and saying, “Hey guys, let me play, I’m cool too!” The more your only evidence is your own opinion, the more likely people are to dismiss it. It sounds like bragging, and unwarranted bragging at that. People will think even less about you as a result.


Giving Credit where Credit is Due


A true hallmark of leadership and diplomacy is the ability to give credit where credit is due, even if you don’t like the other person. No reconciliation between two people, groups or countries can ever take place if all discussion centers around criticism of the other’s failures and faults. One of the first steps in diffusing tensions and creating the environment of trust in which warring factions are willing and able to come to the table and create change is acknowledging a positive attribute or success. To do otherwise is to say “I believe that you are a terrible person at your core and are incapable of anything good or valuable.” Why would I want to continue discussion with someone who thinks and says that about me?


Bernie Sanders showed leadership, class and grace under fire in this area last night. In discussing Cuba, Sanders was attacked for having given Fidel Castro credit for improving the country’s literacy rate. In a thinly-veiled attempt to take down the momentary front-runner in the race, his opponents tried to overgeneralize that comment to make it sound like he was praising Castro as a wonderful leader overall, and they attempted to draw parallels between Sanders’ relationship with Castro and President Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin.


Sanders stood his ground and stated matter-of-factly that he disapproved of the dictatorship overall, but would objectively give credit for that one success. Whether or not the ends justified Castro’s means to achieve that success is a whole other question, which was not the topic of discussion in the moment. Shame on you other candidates for twisting that around in an attempt at sensationalism and fear-mongering, a strategy you’ve all referred to as “demagoguery” when ascribing it to Donald Trump’s speech style. (Hypocrisy, anyone?) In that moment, Sanders was demonstrating is one of the skillsets of an effective diplomat, and to neither acknowledge nor demonstrate it does not shed a good light on what a future administration would look like under your leadership.


Facilitating Discussions with “Type A” Personalities


My final “razzberry” for the night doesn’t go to any of the candidates; rather, it goes to the moderators, who apparently thought their job was merely to ask a question and then do nothing. Yes, it’s difficult to walk the fine line and diplomatically but effectively keep people to time limits and intervene when it becomes a free-for-all, but when you’re officially moderating or facilitating a panel or discussion of any sort, it’s part of the job description. If you’re unable and/or unwilling to do so, you don’t belong in the seat.


When I’ve chaired board meetings and other events in which there was a lot to do in a short amount of time, and a variety of opinions, priorities and personalities involved, my first step has always been to not merely state expectations for participation, but to ask for people’s commitment up front to adhere to them, and more importantly, I ask each participant to grant me permission to intervene as necessary to ensure the group’s objectives get met.  Nobody ever says no, because they want me to hold everyone else accountable.


Then, having been so publicly and unanimously deputized, when someone start talking over another person, I can interrupt respectfully but authoritatively: “Excuse me, Jack, but as you’ve all instructed me to do, I just need to ask you to hold that thought until Mary finishes her point so everyone can hear her idea and yours clearly. Thanks so much.” To date, nobody has ever refused to momentarily yield.


The moderators last night could just as easily have asked everyone on stage to state outright whether or not they were willing to adhere to time limits and not interrupt someone else’s designated talk time. Would anyone have dared to refuse that request? Then the moderators could have reminded them gently of that commitment whenever they broke it, and the millions of witnesses would stand to judge their reactions first-hand. Had the moderators taken that initiative, last night could have been a very different – read: more pleasant and productive – experience for all.


Was it worth it?


With all that said, was it worth watching the full two hours? If your goal was to identify a clear frontrunner, I’d have to say no. But if you look at it as a living case study of effective messaging, then it’s a resounding yes.


Candidates: next time, we’d appreciate being able to say “yes” to both.

Verbal-Vocal-Visual Alignment and the Bloomberg Effect

Democratic Debate -Round 9

All politics aside (as with all of my posts), we have to thank former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg for bringing an as-yet-unseen level of energy to the Democratic debates, and providing some of the clearest illustrations of the power of the Three Vs: Verbal, Vocal and Visual alignment – and their effect on establishing credibility and a strong leadership image.


Naturally, a good advertisement with good photographs and B-roll footage and a good voice-actor narrator can make anyone seem like the perfect candidate, and  $300M worth of such advertising can – and did – make him seem better than much of the competition, as some polls were starting to show leading up to the debate. But without a vocal stunt double, a director, or someone to yell “cut” and try again, reality hits hard, and it hit Bloomberg like a ton of bricks on stage. Why?


The Difference Between Bloomberg and Trump


Although many opponents tried to paint Bloomberg as another Trump, there is one HUGE difference between the two: President Trump has an overabundance of charisma and on-stage/camera presence. Whether you love him or hate him, his words, voice and body language are all 100% committed to everything he is saying, and makes you believe that HE passionately believes everything he is saying. As a result, when he speaks – whether boasting about his own success or dismissing allegations of sexual harassment and racist comments – he manages to further galvanize his followers and stoke their trust in him.


Michael Bloomberg, in contrast, has NONE of that. On stage, he has all the warmth, personality and charisma of a jellyfish. His answers were simple and to-the-point for the most part, which is good, and he didn’t flinch much when the barrage of attacks came right at the starting gate from Elizabeth Warren and others. But he was also the poster-child of LACK of alignment in messaging, which is why he not only went down, he went down in flames.

Body Language


Visually, his facial expression never moved, even when trying to sidestep Warren’s challenge to him to release women from signed non-disclosure agreements regarding harassment. Paired with the dismissive verbal comments like how maybe some of the women just didn’t like his jokes (hardly NDA-worthy), his overly-stoic presence made it seem like even HE didn’t believe what he was saying, and was merely reciting lines his lawyers had told him to say. If you’re just going through the motions, people can tell, and they don’t buy into it.

“Unpleasant” Voices — it's not just for women anymore!


Vocally, Bloomberg’s voice lacks any trace of warmth, empathy or relatability. His volume, pace, and pitch barely wavered, and came across as cold and flat. While many have complained about not liking Elizabeth Warren’s voice, and I’ve called out Amy Klobuchar multiple times on her trembling voice as projecting nerves and a lack of authority, Bloomberg’s voice aesthetic ranks dead-last. It reflected many of the qualities that Hillary Clinton frequently got accused of having in her voice. But while most people (especially men, statistically) won’t consciously recognize this because “unpleasant voices” are stereotypically associated as a negative female trait, it will have the same negative effect on viewers – men and women alike – on a subconscious level.

What about Content (Verbal)?


Even verbally, Bloomberg was no better than anyone else with regard to the issues I’ve been calling for from the start: He told no stories, included no “tweetable-and-repeatable” campaign promises, and used no memorable refrains. Performance-wise, he sounded exactly like a businessman-turned-politician: the worst of both worlds.


Ironically, he also managed to bring out the BEST alignment and performance in some of his opponents.


Warren 2.0

If anyone was previously concerned that Elizabeth Warren didn’t have the strength and fortitude to handle Donald Trump on stage, much less the presidency, last night may not have 100% convinced them otherwise, but she sure as heck made them think twice, as she came out with guns blazing and never backed down. Her attacks on Bloomberg were clear, concise, and powerful, and her delivery was passionate without crossing the dangerous double-standard line into sounding “bitchy” or “nagging.” With the exception of her persistent “no-no-no” head motion (Senator, get that under control!), in those exchanges, she came across as strong, authoritative, compelling and credible as someone who might have what it takes after all. Well done.


Biden – Revived

Bloomberg’s presence also seems to have given a B-12 shot to Joe Biden. He was energized in a way we haven’t seen in a long time. That energy, matched with an equally uncommon ease of retrieving stats and crafting phrases that highlighted his experience and accomplishments also reminded followers why he’s the most qualified person for the job – and that he is, in fact, ready for it. He also managed to incorporate a few good refrains, such as “I’m the guy who…” with regard to issues such as healthcare and Latin American trade policies, and “reward work, not wealth,” which is a GREAT “tweetable-and-repeatable” slogan that he used three times last night, and should be used multiple times every time he is in front of a microphone. If he used one or both of those refrains in every answer he gave, aligned with that energy and focus, he’d surge right back to the top of the polls and stay there.


The rest – Bernie Sanders, Amy Klobuchar, and Pete Buttigieg – were consistent, but ultimately forgettable.


Alignment-wise, Buttigieg was close, but no cigar. He was as smooth, articulate and unflappable as ever. One oddity was that it didn’t look like he had shaved; someone should have had him watch tapes of the Nixon-Kennedy debate. And while he may have had one or two good lines (e.g. implying that Bloomberg and Sanders shouldn’t lead the ticket because neither of them is technically a Democrat), a few good lines doesn’t make a memorable performance. Even his closing statement was boring. Generic content, even delivered well, has no impact.


Klobuchar gets points for a few good stories and passion, but her voice still trembled, if somewhat less than previous debates; she still used her favorite filler, “Uh,” over and over in every answer; and she still made erroneous if not utterly ridiculous comments such as her suggestion that the best way to stop sexism on the internet is to nominate a woman. (???) Her lack of alignment does convey one consistent conclusion: she may have some good ideas and have a good heart, but “she’s got no game.”


And Sanders… is Sanders. To his credit, he is the most consistent messenger on the stage. I recently saw some footage of him from back in 1987, and with the exception of having more hair, he was still saying the exact same things he’s saying today, in the exact same way. It’s actually quite impressive. So, when your content and delivery are in such good and consistent alignment and it’s STILL not working, it begs the question:




The answer is that the message content isn’t clear and compelling enough to be digested, despite well-aligned delivery. For example, for decades, he has been unable to meaningfully and memorably convey to the masses how his Medicare For All program saves money. He repeats the explanation that taxes go up but other costs go down or are eliminated entirely, so while the words are accurate, they’re not sinking in.

Leadership communication lesson #1:

You have to be able to explain things in a way that are not merely “correct,” but in a way that others are able to hear it and understand it. If they don’t “get it,” they won’t “get you.”


Take note, candidates (and leaders of any sort, anywhere):

  • Stories are relatable; statistics are not.
  • Vocal variation compels people to listen; constantly yelling at them does not.
  • Tweetableandrepeatable refrains that stand out are memorable; haranguing and rambling, run-on sentences do not.


And when you have honed your message, if you don’t want it to fall in deaf ears, think good and hard about your delivery if you want it to land with the desired effect.

(Still) Frustrated that People Mispronounce Your Name?

Ironically, of all the topics I teach in the world of leadership communication and influence, the single most common thing people STILL want to talk to me about when we meet is how to say their names so others will understand it and be able to pronounce it correctly. It was an example I used in my TEDxPenn talk back in 2013, “Want to Sound Like a Leader? Start by Saying Your Name Right,” and 6,000,000 views later, well, apparently the problem isn't solved just yet!

The issue was recently raised again by Ruchika Tulshyan, in her recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “If You Don't Know How to Say Someone's Name, Just Ask,” focusing on it from the angle of someone whose name is regularly mispronounced, and why that can be not only frustrating and insulting, but potentially even detrimental to one's career.

But whether or not you have a Western name, the way most people introduce themselves makes it unnecessarily hard for the listener to understand and remember, so if your name is unusual in any way, that just compounds the problem.

Beyond what I discussed in my TED talk, there are simple steps you can take to help others understand and remember (and thereby be able to correctly pronounce) your name.

How to Help Others Pronounce Your Name Right

  1. SLOW DOWN! (A LOT!) Most people ZOOM through their name so quickly that the listener couldn't possibly catch it. And if you keep talking, they may not know how to interrupt you to ask you to repeat it.
  2. SPEAK UP. Especially if you're in a crowded space like a networking event or conference, you need to ensure they can hear what you're saying; just because YOU hear yourself, it doesn't mean THEY can.
  3. ENUNCIATE. This goes hand in hand with speed in part, but don't mumble and expect others to be able to decipher it.
  4. Orally SEPARATE your first from last name(s). Put a space/pause between the names so they don't run together into one continuous stream of sound. Especially if it's a “foreign” sounding name (goes for anyone speaking any language to a listener who speaks a different language), the listener may genuinely not know where your first name should end and last name begins.
  5. If the SPELLING of your name doesn't match what the listener would expect it to sound like (such as on a name tag at a networking event or in a bio someone's going to read aloud when introducing you,) proactively write in a cue and/or explicitly state to the listener: “My name doesn't look like it sounds. It's spelled ____, but it's actually pronounced ___.” If what people see doesn't match what they hear, they will naturally assume that they misheard, and rely on the text in front of them. After all, seeing is believing, right?

Separating Motivational Errors from Ability Errors

In another useful article, Gerardo Ochoa shared his experiences with people butchering his name, and offers some good suggestions on how to correct people. But neither Mr. Ochoa's piece nor Ms. Tulshyan's piece addressed one factor that can be fodder for misunderstanding that can negatively impact relationships: ABILITY.

As a linguist and foreign language instructor for many years, I can tell you that pronunciation is by far the most challenging aspect of any language. Some people have a very “musical ear” and can recognize and produce all sorts of sounds, and others have a “tin ear,” and no matter how hard they try, simply can't hear the difference between what they say and what you're saying. Alternatively, they may be able to hear the difference, but have absolutely no idea how to make the sounds that you're making.

As such, I want to offer one more important strategy for helping your listener be able to call you by name in a way that makes you feel respected in the process:

  1. Practice PRONUNCIATION EMPATHY. Be mindful of certain sounds that may be unique to your native language if it's a language the listener is unfamiliar with. These are like auditory potholes in the road that can stymie the listener's understanding and potentially be impossible for them to repeat. For example, maybe your name is “Roberto” and you naturally roll your R's in Spanish but the listener is unfamiliar with that sound and unable to produce it. Or if your name is Liu, and in Mandarin it requires use of the “second tone,” your average English speaker probably won't even perceive much less realize is relevant, even if they are trying to say it right.

As a result, while it's certainly understandable to want to honor your native language and culture and maintaining the native pronunciation, there may be times when you'll need to meet the other person half way, so to speak, because they're simply unable to meet you all the way otherwise.

If you forget everything else, remember rule #1: SLOW DOWN — A LOT! You'll be amazed at the difference it makes!

Here’s to your success!

PS: Do you feel frustrated that people don’t understand what you’re trying to say, in a way that negatively affects your ability to have more influence? Set up a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me here.

Head of the Class or Back of the Pack: What to look for in Thursday’s debate

Thursday evening is Round 3 of the Democratic primary debates, but the question is whether the third time’s the charm that puts someone in the lead, or a curse that ends a campaign.

With ten people all competing for attention and votes, the answer will depend on one fundamental issue: whether or not their performance is MEMORABLE. Being memorable requires a balance of two things: being CONCISE (thus easy to understand and retain,) and RELATABLE (therefore likeable).

This is why candidates need to step up their game: because it’s the only chance they’ll have to convert some hearts and minds, and persuade enough people to jump on their bandwagon and help them get to Round 4. Lesson: If they don’t remember you, they’ll never help you win.

There are 3 key factors I’ll be looking for in the candidates’ performance: Core campaign promises, Personal stories, and a Call to action. Here’s why:

  1. Core campaign promises: Candidates need to summarize their stance on each issue in a way that is what I call “tweetable and repeatable.” If they can’t get their own promise into a sound bite of about a half-dozen simple words, nobody else will either. Then nobody will remember it well enough to be able to repeat it. Not only will candidates need to know and be ready with the details, but be able to drive the sound bite home, repeatedly and verbatim.
  2. Personal stories: The simple fact is that stories bring data – and policies – to life. Statistics and logical explanations get slowly processed in the neocortex: the emotionless calculator part of the brain. Concise, well-told, personal stories trigger an emotional reaction in the amygdala: the part of the brain that works on instinct, reflex, and survival. People remember how you made them feel far more than what you made them think about. Want people to remember you well enough to DO something? Tell a powerful story that makes their pupils dilate.
  3. Call to Action: On the first night of Round 2 debates in July, Bernie Sanders was the only candidate savvy enough to end the night by giving the audience a single, clear, immediately actionable instruction: “Go to…” It’s genius because it’s easy to understand, easy to remember, and most importantly, it’s easy to complete, and it directly impacts his ability to get to the next round. Needless to say, the next night nearly all of the candidates followed suit – some much more effectively than others – and as I predicted here, there’s an unsurprising parallel between which candidates had powerful closing statements with a clear call to action, and who’s here for Round 3.

There’s one more factor that will make or break the effectiveness of each of these elements: Not only does the content need to be strong, it needs to be delivered with a critical balance of variation AND authenticity. This is challenging but critical.

For example, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker did a great job of this in Round 1, being appropriately serious and passionate at times, but easy going and approachable at others. That flexibility gives voters a chance to relate to them on multiple levels.

In contrast, in Round 1, Tulsi Gabbard and Michael Bennett were consistently flat in their delivery. Some may have seen it as positive and unflappable, which is good, but too many other viewers could have interpreted their demeanor as lacking the internal “fire” necessary for the job, much less to beat Donald Trump. Showing a “spark” here and there would have gone a long way. Note that neither of them made it to Round 3.

So on Friday morning after the debate ask yourself: Who stands out most in your memory? And how much of it is what they made you THINK about, vs. how you FELT about them? Why? The answer is where you’ll find the powers of persuasion and influence… and a good sense of who will make it to Round 4.

It’s Official: The Missing Link for a Democrat Victory

The theme for the last two days should be “Make America Debate Again.” The Democrats need a do-over if they’re going to nominate a candidate who can win in 2020. Here’s why the vast majority of candidates missed the mark last night.

(As a reminder, my angle is apolitical, solely evaluating the effectiveness of the messaging strategies of the various candidates on both sides of the aisle, looking at what is working for them, what isn’t, why, and what that implies for the future of the election. I keep my political preferences out of the discussion.)

As the second cohort of 10 candidates engaged in their first official debate, I was hopeful. Subconsciously I think I hoped that some of them had read my analysis yesterday of the first night’s debate, and taken heed of the Big Three lessons their counterparts had missed, to give us a much more powerful and valuable experience on day-two. Clearly, that did not happen.

The Big Three lessons the whole party needed to learn from their defeat in 2016 were:

  1. Use Sound-bite messaging for campaign promises – short, clear, concrete, memorable, results-oriented phrases to remind people of your promised deliverables as president, a-la “Make America Great Again”, “Build a Wall,” or “Repeal Obamacare.”
  2. Use Action Verbs in those sound bites (see previous examples) rather than “to be” static verbs regarding “being stronger together” or the need to “be united.” These statements are philosophical and contextual, not results to vote for.
  3. To Sustain the Credibility Factor by balancing Verbal, Vocal, and Visual communication cues. Both the content (verbal) and the delivery (vocal/visual) need to match up for listeners (especially voters) to buy into what you and your message. (For more on this, check out my new book: Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice.)

Today, I want to focus on the biggest trends in missed opportunities in these three areas in Thursday’s debate. Specifically, the lack of summary sound bites for ANY candidate (with or without the action verb at the forefront), and the role that storytelling did, didn’t, and/or should have played in establishing each candidates’ credibility.

Just about any business professional can tell you the three stages of the standard business presentation: “Tell them what you’re going to tell them. Tell them. Tell them what you told them.” Not that a debate is a generic business presentation, but the relevance, in other words, is that people need to hear things three times, in the introduction, body, and conclusion, and those repetitions need to be clear, concise and concrete, in order to be understood and maybe remembered. In the debates, the key deliverables need to be identified up front, and reinforced at the end, as if to say, “If you forget everything else you heard tonight, remember these three things about me and what I’ll do for you.”

We all know that regardless of what the first question is, candidates will use that opportunity to identify all their top issues, and they all did. But why is it so hard to put them into sound bites that are concrete and outcome oriented? Einstein reportedly said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” (Further evidence that he was a genius.)

There were plenty of moments where candidates did include an example of such sound bites, but they were always in passing, in the middle of a much longer and more convoluted sentence, and got lost in the weeds:

  • Senator Michael Bennett said he wanted to “end gerrymandering” and “overturn Citizens United.” Clear, practical, results oriented. Why did he gloss over them?
  • VP Joe Biden referenced targets for renewable energy sources and electric vehicles, but in passing, not a core campaign message
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg referenced his promises for “Medicare for all who want it” and Free college tuition just for lower- and middle-income families, which he could have stated as “and free college tuition for all families that need it,” but didn’t reinforce them in the end. Instead he did mention climate solutions, racial equality, and an end to an endless war, which is a step in the right direction, but they’re abstract and/or generic references. Some “what/how-much-by-when” language would have made all the difference.
  • Senator Kristin Gillibrand had the makings of some good, concrete sound bites, from creating “clean elections” (i.e. election reform) and a family bill of rights with a litany of deliverables therein, but it was a laundry list of topics, and nobody memorizes laundry lists. With no prioritized core of sound-bite deliverables at the end, the whole list – and the candidate – becomes forgettable.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders, like Gillibrand, had a litany of deliverables that got lost in the tirades, from using Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for Supreme Court justices, to cutting the price of prescription drugs in half. He needed to pick a few priorities and reinforce them at the start and finish.
  • Senator Kamala Harris had the first “breakout moment” of the night, as the evening began with everyone competing to speak, when she set the bar for leadership presence by commenting, “America doesn’t want to witness a food fight, they want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.” Although she had powerful stories (which I’ll get to later,) and a number of concrete deliverables such as banning imports of assault weapons, none were phrased in a way that was as singularly memorable as that breakout comment. She wrapped up with passing reference to her “3am plan” which would have been a perfect time to bullet out the specific objectives therein, but once again, the opportunity was lost.
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper offered plenty of concrete, concise deliverables… but all in the past tense. They focused on what he DID for Colorado, not what he WILL DO for the US. He might think the connection should be obvious…but that’s not how it works.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell had a few quotable moments, but at best they were cute or clever rather than compelling, such as “Breaking up with Russia, and making up with NATO,” or comparing his current duties of changing policy at work with changing diapers at home – and musing that sometimes the diapers smell better than DC. If he had reinforced his plan to buy back all assault weapons with as pithy language at the beginning and end of the night rather than continually invoking his youth and the notion that it’s time to “pass the torch to the next generation” (i.e. most of his opponents are too old), it might have been easier to take him seriously as a competitor.
  • Andrew Yang was clearly an underdog, which was reinforced by the fact that the moderators gave him all of about two minutes the whole evening. But that’s all the more reason that he of all people needed to have his elevator pitch down to a science.
  • And finally, Marianne Williamson… oh, Marianne. Her one truly pithy, insightful moment pertained to the current handling of the immigration crisis, observing that taking children away from their parents and neglecting their basic needs, in any other context, would be considered kidnapping and child abuse. But aside from that, her many books on women, spirituality, love and the like may have positively impacted the lives of millions, but neither her “author’s voice” nor literal voice translated effectively to the political stage. Her lack of ability to state anything concrete, using very flowery language and talking in abstract terms about how love will prevail, merely confirmed that her skill and calling is in writing poetry and prayers, not policy. She belongs in Barnes & Noble, not Washington, DC.

Communication and influence are both art and science. The ability to distill your core campaign promises into concrete sound bites is simple science. The ability to craft your point into a persuasive story, however, is also an art form, and some candidates were much more artistic than others. Most had the supplies, and several picked up the paintbrush, but few painted a compelling picture:

  • Bennett twice referenced the fact that his mother was a refugee from Poland during the Holocaust, but he said it as generically as if he had followed up with, “…and her name is Susanne” (which it is.) In discussing immigration policy, you didn’t think to give a few details about your family’s experience in the Holocaust? If you don’t recognize the importance of those experiences in your own family, how will people believe that you recognize the importance of critical experiences in theirs?
  • Biden’s personal life has seen heart-wrenching tragedy, with losing his first wife and daughter in a car accident, and Iraq-war veteran son to cancer. He missed the opportunity to more explicitly link and reinforce how those experiences inform his current policy choices. Stories would have humanized the policies.
  • Buttigieg had tons of fodder for stories and, frankly, was far more impressive than I expected, but let way too many story opportunities slip through his fingers. As a war veteran, he could have shared a field experience, such as detailing how it felt to train with or fire assault weapons as evidence of how he knows why they don’t belong in civilian hands. I was on the edge of my seat waiting for a Brene Brown-like moment of authoritative vulnerability when he started his response to the question about getting a more representative proportion of black police offers in South Bend by honestly stating: “I couldn’t get it done.” I was dying to know how he was going to turn that around with some powerful lesson learned… but he didn’t. (I guarantee his opponents – especially Donald Trump, should the opportunity arise – will find a way to use this against him, as they try to paint him as the guy who can't “get it done.”) And perhaps most powerful was when he shared the experience of having had to write a “Just in Case” letter for his family when leaving for military deployment. Just a sentence or two about the thought process of writing it and how he feels about it now would have made all the difference.
  • Gillibrand gave a thorough list of accolades, but no details. She submitted a complete resume, but we wanted the cover letter too.
  • Sanders is an artist in his own right, but his “medium” is statistics, lectures and tirades, not stories and personal experiences. His delivery was consistently passionate and angry, and he only has two hand gestures to go along with it: either a sweeping open hand that dismisses anything he doesn’t agree with, or his right thumb and forefinger tips touching and repeatedly “pecking” it at the audience as if his art form of choice were pointillism, using a golf pencil instead of a paintbrush, as if to say, “Listen to what I’m saying here-and-here-and-here.” He’s in Gillibrand’s camp of submitting resumes without cover letters. Like Biden, he is a well-known entity, stable and unchanging, love him or hate him, and the consistency of the brand is what he’s counting on.
  • Harris, in my opinion, won the storytelling award last night, for quantity, quality, and delivery. On the one hand, she illustrated the need for some policy changes with generic, archetypal stories of parents hesitating to take their sick children to the ER because the insurance copay would immediately demand $5,000, and the thought processes of every Latin American mother who makes the soul-crushing choice of sending their young child with a coyote across the border into the US. And on the other hand, she shared very real details of her own experiences regarding school integration and busing as a child, and neighborhood children who weren’t allowed to play with her because she was black. These stories all drove home her one core message: “I get it.” And her delivery was both credible and relatable. Her presence and voice were authoritative without being authoritarian, passionate without slipping down the slope into the unfortunate “angry black woman” stereotype, and authentic while still contextually appropriate. Well done, Kamala.
  • Hickenlooper seemed to have a solid track record of successes in Colorado, but not only was he in the story-free resume mode in talking about them, he also sabotaged himself by speaking too quickly with few pauses in meaningful places. I recall hearing important achievements, but he talked so quickly I couldn’t write them down fast enough while taking notes on my laptop, and I type over 80 words per minute. Storytelling rule of thumb: the strategic pause is one of the most important but underutilized rhetorical devices a speaker has. Learn to use it to your critical advantage.
  • Swalwell had the perfect beginnings of a powerful story but missed the mark telling it. In discussing school gun violence, he described himself “as a parent, of a generation who sends our children to school where we look at what they’re wearing so we can remember it in case we have to identify them later.” It’s a powerful point, but his mistake was in using the word “we” instead of “I.” Telling this story mainly from the general perspective of a demographic (age) group waters down its power. How much more would people have felt for him and connected with him personally if he had said, “when I send my children to school, I look at what they’re wearing so I can remember it in case I have to identify them later”? In this case, “we” sounds like a politician. “I” sounds like a parent. Who would you trust more?
  • Yang had so little time, he really only had the chance to make one point. Unfortunately, he chose to objectively explain how his $1000-per-adult program would work (think economic textbook), instead of illustrating it by creating an avatar, and walking the audience through a day in the life of the “Jones” family with or without that extra money (think storybook). Which version would you rather read?
  • And finally, Williamson… also no stories, but instead of sounding like an economic textbook, she ran in the other direction, sounding like new-age political Reiki (no offense to Reiki practitioners): there are people who will “feel” it, but it’s too “out there” for most.

My prediction: By default, most people will vote for the candidate who makes them feel “safe.” While Biden and Sanders may have taken the lead in the polls, it is primarily because they are so well known. People feel safe with the “what you see is what you get” brand stability, and the difference between them is whether voters find any reference to socialism to be hopeful or scary. HOWEVER, for another candidate to come from behind and take the lead, they’ll need to follow my rules from yesterday and today and get their brand messaging down to concise, concrete, outcome-oriented sound bites, repeated consistently at key moments, and illustrated with relatable, personal stories.

In my opinion, based on these factors alone, Kamala Harris was the only one this time who showed signs of being able to do that. She joins the ranks of Cory Booker and Bill DeBlasio as the current candidates with the most potential – if they take my advice – to talk their way past establishment candidates Biden and Sanders to the nomination, and past Trump to the White House.