(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 BernieSanders.com…” 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.

3 Key Messaging Lessons Dems Haven’t Learned from 2016

Last night was the kickoff to the 2020 Presidential Election: the first part of the first round of Democratic Primary Debates, with 10 candidates, half of the 20 candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring so far. (The other half will debate tonight.) My goal is to provide a series of apolitical analyses of the messaging skills and strategies of the various candidates, looking at what is working for them, what isn’t, why, and what that implies for the future of the election.

Let me be clear: I’m keeping all of my own political opinions to myself. Whether I praise candidates for effective messaging or point out major shortcomings in their performance is no reflection on whether or not I would vote for them.

Also, this is not a comprehensive listing of everything that was said, but rather the first impressions that were made. If you feel something was missed, feel free to add it (diplomatically, please!) in the comments below, but realize that if I missed it, it may be because it simply didn’t register on my radar clearly enough to write it down in the moment. And in the end, what registers with voters is what will determine how they cast their vote. If something gets missed in this context, it’s the fault of the messenger, plain and simple.

Overall, there was lots of good information exchanged and it was a good introduction to some of the candidates, but what I noticed that was MOST IMPORTANT to me, was that there were THREE KEY MESSAGING LESSONS THAT THE DEMOCRATS seem to have FAILED TO LEARN FROM 2016. Let’s explore them now:

  1. Stick to Sound Bite Campaign Promises – Trump had “MAGA,” “Build a Wall,” “Repeal Obamacare,” “Bring back Manufacturing,” even “Lock her up!” They were all three to five words long, easy to remember, easy to understand, and easy to repeat in conversation. It was easy to envision each outcome, and how it would be different from the current status. Not one candidate did that tonight. They talked about lots of issues, but no memorable, concrete sound bite core campaign messages.

    At best, John Delaney had a couple of them like “Get America Working Again” and “Real solutions, not impossible promises,” but note that these are comparatively uninspiring. “Make America Great Again” sets an inspiring and aspirational standard: GREATNESS. It implies going from zero to 100. “Get America Working Again” sounds like it’s just going from reverse to neutral: the goal is merely to make it not broken… not actually great. And “real solutions, not impossible promises” is too generic. If you ask anyone to explain what he meant, and give an example… most would need time to think of one and figure out how to explain it. (Hint: If it doesn’t jump off your lips, it’s not real enough.)

  2. Use Action Verbs, not status words – All of Trump’s campaign promise sound bites above had energized action verbs and concrete objects/targets of the action. Make (America)… Build (wall)…Stop (illegal immigration)…Lock up (her)… Hillary’s one central campaign slogan was: “Stronger together.” What’s the verb? To Be. It’s about status, not action or change. Some would argue it was too “kumbaya.” United, inclusive… nice. Nice – alone – doesn’t inspire, and what doesn’t inspire, doesn’t win.So what slogans did we hear tonight from the next generation of Democratic hopefuls? Here are a few excerpts from closing statements:

    – “I’m running…to build infrastructure, to fix our broken healthcare system,… to improve education” (Delaney)
    – “I am not the establishment candidate.” (Klobuchar)
    – We need to “call the country to a sense of common purpose” and “show the best of who we are.” (Booker)
    – “It’s time to come (be) together” (Ryan)
    – “We are better than this.” (Delaney)

    The “be” statements aren’t bad statements, but they’re insufficient, especially when combined with comments that just list topics (“healthcare…clean air and water… good paying jobs…” – Gabbard) or are otherwise too verbose to be memorable. And Delaney’s references to infrastructure and health care are still too process-oriented, without a clear vision of what the resulting product would look like.

  3. Sustain the “Credibility Factor” – If you’ve heard me speak, attended any of my trainings, or read my new book, Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice, you’ve heard me explain that the foundation of a leadership image is the appearance of credibility. Credibility is strongest when your three messaging channels are all in alignment: Verbal (e.g., word choice, stories, data, lack of fillers), Vocal (e.g., intonation, speed, emotion), and Visual (e.g. hand gestures, facial expressions, body language).

    This is something that Donald Trump has virtually mastered. Even when he makes statements that are inaccurate at best (verbal), he delivers them so convincingly (vocal/visual) that many people either don’t care (perhaps because they like his version better) or suspend disbelief because he seems so confident and convinced (vocal, visual) in the moment that he’s right, that it seems like what he says has to be true. As research has shown, when the Verbal content doesn’t match the Vocal/Visual delivery, people instinctively trust the delivery over the content itself.

Last night, most candidates were out of alignment with one or more of these factors, which inspires doubt in the listener and undermines credibility. As there were only three, let’s start with the women. For example:

  1. Elizabeth Warren gave pretty solid, specific and refreshingly direct answers to questions (verbal), and was clearly passionate about everything she said (vocal/visual), but she only had one facial expression (visual) and tone (vocal) all night: angry/frustrated. And while that may be both fully justifiable and acceptable for people like Bernie Sanders who has turned the “crotchety-but-passionate advocate” into a lovable brand for many, the fact is that there’s a double standard for women, and “the angry woman” isn’t someone who has widespread appeal to most people who aren’t also similarly “angry women.” It’s not that she shouldn’t display her anger; it’s simply that she can’t only display her anger if she seeks more widespread support. Moreover, almost every time she spoke, her head would rapidly shake back and forth in a slight-but-on-going “no” motion. If your words say “yes” but your body says “no,” trust me, people will ignore what you say and believe what they see.
  2. Amy Klobuchar was the other side of Warren’s coin: she remembered to smile (visual) at times, made some good points (verbal), and was much more approachable overall. But where she might have won the “likable” vote, it was at the expense of projecting gravitas and authority when she spoke (vocal). Likability without authority is simply “nice,” and once again, “nice,” by itself, doesn’t win elections.
  3. Tulsi Gabbard came to life at the end when she shot down Ryan’s comment about American “engagement” in foreign wars, saying that to her, as a soldier having served on active duty in the Middle East, his answer was “unacceptable” (verbal), but even then, on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high), her overall passion and apparent connection (vocal/visual) to her own words was only up around a level 4. For the rest of her contributions, regardless of content, her face never moved (visual), and her voice barely fluctuated (vocal). It was like listening to a mannequin with a sound track. Not charismatic or relatable at all. Donald Trump will most likely home in on that and dismiss her like he did for Jeb Bush in 2016 with the “low energy” refrain.

    And the men? As there were so many, here are just a few notable trends:

  4. Code Switching into Spanish (verbal/vocal) – at some point in the evening, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Julián Castro all switched into Spanish for exactly ONE sentence apiece. Their Spanish insert was always a general statement of inclusion regardless of the question they were answering, as an explicit nod to the growing Latino voting population in recognition of its increasing importance at the polls, as if to say, “I’m more like you and understand you better than anyone else here, so vote for me.”

    The content (verbal) was negligible, but the abrupt shift to the ears (vocal) sparks an emotional reflex of familiarity and comfort when someone suddenly hears their native language, and that familiarity makes people associate feelings of comfort with memories of you. Some people might call it pandering, but it was smart pandering. However, Castro may have gone too far in bragging (verbal) that his first campaign stop was in Puerto Rico instead of Iowa or New Hampshire, as opponents and other voters may view that not as merely including Latinos, but as prioritizing the interests of non-voting Latinos over voting Americans of any background. That wasn’t so smart.

  5. Storytelling – (verbal) – Stories bring data to life, period. Personal stories bring people to life. O’Rourke referenced a story of a young man in a hospital, and Castro and others referenced the tragic story of the refugee father and baby daughter who recently died trying to cross the Rio Grande, but they were other people’s stories, so had less impact. Castro also name-dropped – a LOT – from his daughter Karina to a list of African Americans and Latinos who were killed by police officers, and while they are good specific references, there was no STORY told. He might have gotten a “bingo point” or two for mentioning relevant names, but he missed his chance to really connect with his audience.

    In contrast, Cory Booker described life on his home street and the sound of gunfire at the corner, and Bill DeBlasio got particularly personal in sharing that his son is black (DeBlasio is white) and how it affects his perception of and attention to issues related to race (e.g. police action). As evidence for his connection to veterans’ affairs and the like, DeBlasio also shared seeing his WWII veteran grandfather return from Okinawa missing a leg, spiraling into depression, and eventually taking his own life. These stories were much more powerful and made the listener feel like the candidate understood issues on a more intimate, personal level.

    Note: Gabbard also made some headway with this when referencing experiences in her military service, particularly in the Middle East (verbal), but she would have gotten much more mileage out of the stories if her delivery (vocal/visual) had been more compelling.

    Others such as John Delaney left out any actual stories, and while his answers sounded “smart” (verbal), he came across more as a human economics textbook, which was not relatable, and likely lost a lot of potential traction as a result.

  6. Facial expressions and body language (Visual) – Beto O’Rourke’s handlers seemed to have trained him to contain his often-excessive gesticulations in order to appear more poised and authoritative, but may have gone too far as he seemed comparatively “vanilla.” On the far opposite end of the spectrum, when listening to questions, Tim Ryan’s default facial expression was like a deer in headlights, and while he loosened up and got more energized when responding, the listener’s instinctive reflex is to discredit him before he even starts talking. Then when Gabbard told him his one answer was “unacceptable” as I mentioned above, he immediately looked down, shuffled his feet and swallowed hard, all non-verbally acknowledging that he got his hand slapped and that she won that exchange.

    Jay Inslee’s passion on some questions translated into a facial expression that looked like he was about to cry on more than one occasion. Vocally, Inslee also has a slight lisp, and combined with a very crooked lower lip when making “s” or “sh” sounds, lends an overall “slushy” quality to his speech. It’s subtle enough that most won’t notice or care, and while it shouldn't matter, some will subconsciously register it and may find him off-putting as a result but not be able to identify why.

In the end, much of the vote will come down to charisma. Charisma is something of an X-Factor; a magnetism that draws people to you, providing a watchable quality that’s crucial in sound-bite media appearances as well as more personal town-hall style events. It’s the voice you listen to that comes from the pit of your stomach when you need to make a decision that you’re not completely sure of.

My prediction: The candidate who can internalize these lessons to get their message boiled down to repeatable sound bites with action verbs and a clear, inspiring vision for the concrete end-result, along with some good personal stories to tell, and deliver it in a way that is the right balance of confident, approachable, sincere, authoritative, relatable and likeable, is going to be the nominee, and the candidate with the best chance of taking the White House in 2020.

In my opinion, based on these factors alone, the front runners for Day-1were Cory Booker and Bill DeBlasio, with Elizabeth Warren as a trailing third, needing to get the “likability” factor up quickly to avoid succumbing to Hillary’s 2016 reputation and fate.

Is Your Body Language Sabotaging Your Success?

In trying to have more influence, sometimes it is what we DON'T say that speaks even louder than what we DO say. As I discuss in Chapter Five of my new book Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice, what's even scarier is that small, non-verbal gestures can serve as giant billboards that expose what we REALLY think and feel about something, even when we claim the exact opposite with our words.

Don't believe me? Check out this new CNN video, in which body language expert Janine Driver dissects R. Kelly's body language in his recent interview with Gayle King regarding some pretty ugly criminal accusations against him. To listen to him talk, he sounds pretty convincing. But when you WATCH him and compare his motions to his words, the evidence is downright condemning. Take a quick look here.

Now, I highly doubt any of us will ever find ourselves in this kind of situation (I certainly hope not!), but ask yourself, where DOES your body language betray your innermost thoughts, doubts, insecurities, or desires?

The most crucial lesson to take from this, which is the foundation of my new book, is that your words, your voice, AND your body language have to be in alignment, or your credibility goes right out the window. Which leads to the essential question:

When you speak, is your voice and/or body language sabotaging your powers of persuasion and influence? Would you even know if it was?

If you want to find out, click here.

Here's to your success,


PS: Don't forget to take advantage of some awesome FREE bonus packages with lots of free books, audio programs, webinars and more just for pre-ordering my book, Speaking To Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice before its official launch on April 16th!

Don’t Give Away Your Power! (New Year Nugget)

Happy new year,

We all feel compelled to make some sort of resolution at the start of a new year, and one of mine is to start talking to you more via video. So that's how I want to offer my recommendation to you regarding a new year's resolution we ALL should make:


Click the video below for a two-minute “New Year Nugget” on how to make sure you DON'T give away your power in the way that you speak.

If you want to make 2019 YOUR year, you need to start by taking control of your image, reputation, and the impression you make on others. The easiest way to do that is start paying attention to how you SOUND when you talk.

Check out the video for pitfalls to avoid and strategies to project your best leadership voice.

Here's to an amazing 2019,


September Events

Exciting September Events!

Summer is winding down and exciting opportunities are lining up, both virtually and in person. I wanted to share some of these great upcoming events and invite you to join me with some terrific collaborators and guests:

September 18 – Pitch Workshop

Are you a woman business owner in the Philadelphia/Wilmington area who needs to nail her business pitch? Join other like-minded entrepreneurs for my Pitch Workshop as part of Sharon Kelly Hake's Great Dames Remarkable Ideas Competition. You can't afford to miss it–literally! (Cash prize!)

September 19  Podcast – Smashing the Plateau

Stay tuned for the link to my interview with David Shriner-Cahn on his powerful podcast, “Smashing the Plateau.” Get tips on small business development, marketing, and impactful communication.

September 20 – Executive Speaker Lab Workshop

If you're an executive (VP/equivalent or higher) who's a master of skill and technical expertise, but wants to be a more confident, charismatic, persuasive public speaker, register today for my next Executive Speaker Lab Series at the Pyramid Club in Philadelphia. Only five spots left! (Want to go but can't make the September date? Here's a sneak peek for November's event in case you want to reserve your space now!)

September 26 – Webinar Series – What to read next

Want to find out what to read (or listen to) next for personal, professional or business development? Or maybe just get someone to share the big take-aways from those books so you don't have to read them yourself? Click here to register for my Virtual Book Review Club. No reading necessary! Have an awesome book you'd love to tell the world about? Tell me here — I'd love for you to share it.

September 29 – Spotlight TV Interview on Fox Business

I'm so excited to be giving a 5-minute Spotlight TV interview on the Fox Business Channel nationwide at 4pm ET. Here's a sneak preview! Check your local listings for channels.

Whew! It's a busy month, but so many fun and exciting opportunities. Come for one, come for all, just come!

Here's to your success,


Is positive feedback harder to give than negative feedback?

I’m sure you’re familiar with that unpleasant feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize you have to give someone negative feedback. You don’t want any drama and you try to avoid conflict. You don’t want to hurt their feelings or anger them. You don’t want them to get defensive and you don’t want to have to defend yourself in the process, but eventually you have to find a way to tell them that there are errors in the report and it needs to be redone, that they’ve been late for the third time, or that the promotion is being given to someone else.

While it may not be surprising that, according to a recent HBR study, 21% of people will avoid giving negative feedback to direct reports, the same study revealed that 37% of people also don’t give positive feedback! At that point, the question becomes: Is it actually harder to give praise than critique?

The article proposes a variety of reasons why people often don’t give positivefeedback, ranging from being “too busy” and forgetting, to feeling like a boss should be tough, or that giving praise was a sign of weakness. Some people may consciously or subconsciously believe that it’s essential to point out mistakes in order to avoid or fix major problems, but that positive recognition is optional and/or not important.

Most intriguing to me, however, was the idea that some people don’t give positive feedback because they don’t know how. So from here, let’s look at three simple strategies for giving clear and effective positive feedback.

1. K.I.S.S.
No, I’m not suggesting you do anything that will warrant a call from HR. Most of you are probably familiar with the age-old acronym K.I.S.S., or “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Praise doesn’t need to be emotional, gushy, effusive or melodramatic. People just like to know – especially from you “tough graders” out there – that they have met your standards, produced high-quality work, or been successful at completing a difficult project on time and under budget.

Most importantly, they probably already know this, but want to know that you recognize that effort or achievement. They know you will catch any mistake; make it equally clear that you watch like a hawk to “catch” them succeeding, too. It shows solidarity, lets them know that you’re on the same team, and promotes a sense of confidence and security, knowing that the boss is looking out for them.

At that point, simple comments like, “Thanks for getting that piece back to me so quickly,” “The layout looks terrific, nice job,” or “Looks like you got everything back up to date, much better” are all that is needed to let people know where they stand. It also provides a sense of closure, which helps keep them from worrying that there may be more bad news to come, so they can comfortably shift their full attention to the next task on the list.

2. Be Specific
Praise is much more powerful when it references something specific. Generic comments like “good job,” while better than nothing, don’t tell the person what it is that you like about it, and can often feel perfunctory and insincere. Does it pertain to the speed in which they completed the job? The depth of analysis? Or just the fact that they closed the deal? Whatever it is, referencing that factor helps them to understand what is most important to you and encourages them to focus future efforts on achieving similar outcomes.

Even if it is just following up on something for which you had previously given negative feedback, acknowledge that the specific problem was fixed to appropriate standards and what positive outcome it promotes, e.g., “This new layout is much cleaner, and the image really pops; the client is going to love it.”

3. Look in the Mirror

If you’re really stuck for how to give praise, ask yourself, if you had done that work, how would you want to be appreciated? Maybe, to the HBR article’s point, you’re not used to giving positive feedback as a boss because you aren’t used to getting it from a boss. I’m not saying your boss should have thrown a party every time you did your job successfully, but think back to a time when you felt like at least a little appreciation would have been nice. Be the boss you wish you’d had, and offer the word of praise that would have been meaningful to you.

Sometimes the best place to start is with a simple word of thanks and recognition of the other person’s effort. “Thanks for pushing through the last week of late nights to make sure we got the issue out on time, I’m sure everyone’s exhausted,” or “Thanks for jumping in to lend a hand on that project; I know your plate was already full” is all people need to hear.

Don’t worry that offering praise will make it seem like you’re “going soft” or that people will slack off once they think you’re happy. On the contrary, for many people, praise is actually a motivator. Success begets success, and feelings of success beget more behaviors of success.

What’s critical to understand is that when people feel like they receive sufficient positive feedback, it makes them more open to hearing and accepting negative feedback from the same person. This is because they know that the boss is fair and clear, and that all feedback, whether positive or negative, is honest and comes from the heart.


Do you have trouble giving feedback, whether positive or negative? Or do you have other questions or feedback about this issue? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

What Does Your Personal Brand SOUND Like?

I just read a great article from Entrepreneur, as shared here, called “7 Signs Your Personal Brand Needs Work.” All seven signs, and the suggestions offered to resolve each, are insightful and important – I recommend reading the article for yourself. But as is common in such analyses, there is one critical factor for establishing your ideal personal brand that is once again missing from the discussion.

Topics such as being consistent with your brand messaging or being visible are extremely important, but tend to be addressed as if people will only get to know you on paper – or on screen. The focus is on the content or text of the message, if all of your social media pages make the same impression, and if you emphasize your vision for the future or are stuck touting past achievements. But what happens when you’re not just writing a Tweet, FaceBook post, blog, or e-mail?

In other words, what happens to that brand messaging when you’re talking to someone, real-time, maybe even (*gasp*) face to face? On a very literal level, what does it sound like when you share your idea, insight and suggestion? Is it as compelling to hear as it is to read?

So many people have terrific ideas and masterful skill sets, but their ability to persuade, compel, and inspire someone just by talking with them simply falls flat. There’s something “missing” in the delivery, which can translate to something missing from their personal brand.

This is the foundation of what I call alignment. Your words and your delivery must be equally strong and compelling, because your words convey your content, and your delivery conveys your intent behind the message. When both parts are reinforcing the same message at the same time, there is credibility to the whole message, and as a result, the credibility reflects back to you.

What do I mean by content vs. intent? Simple. The contents of your message, i.e. what you actually say and the words you use to do so, give the “official” meaning and purpose. The intent, in contrast, is your motivation and feeling behind why you’re saying it. For example, if you bump into someone, and say, “Oh, sorry…” in theory, that’s the right thing to do and should set things right again. However, there’s a huge difference between if you hurriedly mumble, “Oh… sorry…” as you hustle past, vs. if you exclaim, “Oh! Sorry!” and pause to ensure that the other person is okay, before heading off.

In the first way, your perfunctory apology (your content) comes across as recognizing that you’re supposed to apologize so as not to be considered rude, but not like you actually feel sorry or care about the other person at all, despite your claim of being sorry. You’re just saying “Sorry” because you feel like you have to (your intent.) The actual words don’t match the way they sound (or look based on your body language.) Your words (the content) claim to be sorry, but your message is out of alignment. At best, there’s a bare minimum of improvement in how I think of you if you give me that apology, compared to if you bump into me and then completely fail to acknowledge my existence.

The second delivery, however, seems so much more heartfelt, because your words and your delivery were in alignment. Once again, your words (content) claim to be contrite, but this time I believe that it was heartfelt, that you actually ARE sorry and genuinely want to apologize (intent). You stop to make eye contact with me, and the sound of your apology conveys much more sincerity and integrity.

So where does this tie into your brand?

Lots of people claim that they can speak well when they have to give a big presentation or are otherwise in the spotlight, and this shows what you are capable of when you believe the stakes are high enough to warrant that kind of focus and effort. But as far as I’m concerned, your reputation is what happens in the moments when you’re NOT trying; all those little moments when you’re not in the spotlight.

For example, when you think about who you want on your sales or project team, which of the following are you likely to choose (assuming equal technical expertise and quantity of participation):

  1. The person who often mumbles and seems to speak half-heartedly when contributing most meetings and calls, but can “turn it on” for formal presentations and high-stakes client or leadership meetings
  2. The person who always sounds focused and engaged when contributing in meetings and calls, and is equally engaged and engaging in high-stakes meetings

This may seem like a rhetorical question: after all, why would anyone opt for someone who only seems truly engaged part of the time, if – all else being equal – you could work with someone who seemed truly on board all of the time? Yet for as obvious as the choice may seem, when you look at your own participation in generic weekly meetings, for example, what does your participation sound like? Ask yourself the following:

  • Do you always speak loudly enough to ensure that all people can hear?
  • If there’s one or more people on conference call lines when the rest of the group is present in the same physical room, do you proactively work to ensure that they can hear everyone’s contributions, consistently?
  • Do you inflect lots of up-speak when you talk where it sounds like you’re constantly implying lots of questions and requests for validation into your speech even when you’re not?
  • Do you speak so quickly that you tend to slur some words together or mumble, making people have to ask you to repeat what you’ve said?
  • Do you give and receive constructive feedback in an antagonistic or defensive manner, or shy away from it completely?
  • Do you speak in an unnecessarily low voice without enough breath support so that your voice sounds gravelly or creaky, and you seem disinterested, tired, or not confident?

The challenge is that most of us are painfully unaware of our default speech style. We may know how we think we come across, but often what we see and hear in our minds is very different from how other people experience us. The brand and reputation that we think we are building for ourselves is very different from the reality of the brand reputation we’re becoming known for.

This is why it’s critical to gain an awareness of what your “default” speech style is like in these contexts, because for the most part, that’s what people will remember and what they’ll use to form their evaluation of your credibility and leadership, not what you can do in the rare instances when you absolutely have to. After all, what’s more likely: that they frame their opinions based on the exception, or the “rule”?

When in doubt, remember: That “rule” is at the foundation of your brand.


Do you have questions or comments about the issues in today’s post, want to know how to apply them, or how to help others with them? If so, contact me at laura@vocalimpactproductions.com or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!

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