How to Make Your Audience Trust You

Before moving to Philadelphia over 20 years ago(!), I spent a few years teaching English (as a “foreign” language) at Meito High School in Nagoya, Japan.


On the one hand, academically-oriented high school seniors around the world all seem to be focused on the same thing: getting into the best universities possible.


However, a major difference is what is required to be successful in this endeavor. In Japan, grades are extremely important, but the real focus is each university’s entrance exam, and a major national exam: With minimal exception, the highest test scores win, period.


Most of the seniors in my honors English classes had visions of studying at American (or British, or Australian) universities, which meant that a big part of my job was helping them learn the art and science of writing the dreaded college admissions essay.


That task vexes most students, but there were at least two extra layers of challenge for my students: First, of course, was that they had to write these essays in English, rather than their native Japanese (can you imagine having to write your application essays with however much Spanish or French you managed to pick up in high school?)


But even more challenging was that essay writing overall was NOT a part of the Japanese education system on the whole. In other words, they’d never written 1,000 words about ANYTHING, in any language, EVER.


So needless to say, they thought what I was asking them to do was absolutely insane, which was reflected in the effort they were putting into their assignments. Finally, in a moment of empathetic exhaustion, I said to them:


“Look, I know this is difficult, and it’s not fun. But the American university admissions process is very different from the                                        Japanese system, and in the US, this essay is extremely important.

Most of you have said that you dream of studying abroad. If so, you will have to do a LOT of writing, in almost every class. This                            essay is just the beginning.

I am asking you to PLEASE TRUST ME. I know what will be required for you to get there, because I have done it myself, and I                        want to help you succeed. Will you please trust me?”


The class was silent for a moment, but after that, the work ethic was notably improved. That Friday, I collected the students’ journals to read over the weekend, and one student had written:


“I was very surprised and impressed by your words. No teacher has ever asked me to trust them before. I felt your words were                              powerful. So I will trust you.”


An interesting moral to the story for me was that in order to gain people’s trust, sometimes all it takes is to explicitly and sincerely ASK for it!


Being transparent overall is a big part of gaining trust, as explored this week on the Speaking to Influence podcast with guest Trevor Garner, CFO of IdeaCrew. Trevor shares some examples of what works – and what doesn’t – in creating clarity and cultivating trust with both sides of a service-based tool.


IdeaCrew works with politicians and the government and community members to create efficient, user-friendly state healthcare websites. (Talk about a daunting prospect!)


I love when guests surprise me with their answers. In talking about the importance of vulnerability as a prerequisite to building trust, he told a story of when, in a meeting, a male coworker rudely dismissed his comments, after which Trevor replied, “You know, when you said X, you really hurt my feelings.” (If you want to know how the conversation ended, you’ll have to tune in HERE.)



But I confess I was surprised to hear about two male executives having this exchange, as – stereotypically – women are told to “be less emotional” at work, and men have been historically socialized to not talk about their feelings at all. Yet Trevor’s transparency and vulnerability in this way built trust on many levels that opened to deeper and more productive conversations.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch it on YouTube here.


Influence and trust have an interesting relationship: When your audience trusts you, you do not need to persuade them.


And speaking of persuasion, did you catch Friday’s LinkedIn Live (and YouTube Live) with Deb Coviello, The Drop-In CEO? Our topic was “Persuading the C-Suite,” and we had over 5,000 people watch within the first 72 hours – amazing!



But don’t worry if you missed it: you can still watch the replay here.


Adding even more to your powers of persuasion, we're going live on LinkedIn today, May 3, 2022 at 1:00PM – 2:00 PM, where we'll get to discuss Adding Humor to Work and Life with Theresa Hummel-Krallinger, President of High Five Performance. RSVP or join the conversation here.


And if that wasn’t enough, I also have the privilege of speaking with friend and colleague Dr. James Smith, Jr. on The Dr. James Show. You may recall Dr. James from Speaking to Influence episode 95, “Mastering Public Speaking.”


Dr. James is the incoming president of the National Speakers’ Association, a certified speaking professional, master trainer in leadership as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and so much more. When the two of us get going, conversation goes both fast and deep – try to keep up! And get ready for some fun in the process.


You can watch a little promo here.


Now I'm asking YOU to trust ME: take a few moments over lunch or whenever you're free and check out at least one of these conversations with these experts. I know you'll come away with some 24K gold nuggets you won't want to miss.

How to Make Others See Your Point of View

“Diplomacy is the art of letting others have your way.” – Daniele Vare


When my older son (technically my stepson) T., was around 12 or 13, we got an email from one of his teachers informing us that he had been clowning around, talking too much, and otherwise being disruptive in class – a trend that needed to stop.


That evening when he came home, my husband Larry sat down with him at the table to have a chat about it. But before too long, T got loud and defensive, stormed up to his room and closed the door.


I gave him a few minutes to cool off, then went upstairs and tapped on the door.


“Can I come in?” I asked.


“Yeah,” came the muffled and unenthusiastic reply.


I entered to see him sitting on his bed, arms and legs crossed, and a scowl on his face.


“You okay?” I inquired, and sat at the foot of his bed.




“Want to talk about it?”


“No.” (You can see where this conversation was headed.)


“Okay, no problem,” I said. “Just out of curiosity, when your dad brought it up, did he seem mad?”


“No… I guess not,” he mumbled.


“Did he yell?”




“Did he tell your (biological) mother?”




“If he had, would that have made it worse?”




I paused briefly to let it all sink in.


“Okay,” I shrugged. “Well, if you change your mind and want to talk, you know where to find me.”


I went back down to the kitchen to start preparing dinner, where Larry was at the table reading.


A few minutes later, T came downstairs and entered the kitchen.


“Dad, I’m sorry I yelled. You were just trying to talk to me and I was a brat. Thanks for not telling mom I got in trouble. I won’t do it again.” Then he hugged his dad and left the room.


My husband turned and looked at me, incredulous, as if to say, “Did you see that? Was that the same kid from 15 minutes ago? What the heck got into him?!”


I just smiled and went back to making dinner.


Sometimes asking just the right questions can get us infinitely further toward our ultimate influence goal than formulating the most articulate argument.


And it’s not just about asking “leading” questions (although that can be extremely effective, as I described above). Sometimes it’s about asking the right open-ended, fact-finding questions, to help shed light on an issue, and change our own perspective.


Yet ironically, our educational system, society, and most jobs seem to have placed more value on knowing and providing answers than on seeking them. So it often feels counterintuitive when we realize that asking the right questions helps us make an even greater impact as a human being and as a leader.


That’s why in this week’s podcast , Crystal Ashby, Executive Vice-President and Chief People Officer, Independence Health Group, digs deeper into how asking good questions not only makes interesting and meaningful conversations, but more importantly develops trust.


As Chief People Officer, Crystal’s role is focused on providing opportunities for her team as well as empowering them to find their own ways to shine, especially in today’s “new normal.”


Listen in as we discuss forecasting and reimagining a hybrid workforce, providing equal opportunities to remote and in-person team members, and how great leaders teach their direct reports to advocate for themselves and solve problems before stepping in.


Listen to the full conversation here or watch the video here .


Here’s to your success,


PS: If you’re a “last minute shopper” (frantic mall sprint on Christmas Eve, anyone?), consider giving someone an alternative gift: the gift of success through greater Virtual Influence! This is the last chance to register for my online Virtual Influence course to up your game and maximize your confidence, presence and influence online for ⅔ OFF the normal registration fee ! Go to  and enter the promo code INFLUENCE21 to take advantage of this limited time offer today!

A Special Thanks for Veterans Day

This week is a special week as I have two exciting things to share.

First, in honor of Veterans' Day tomorrow, my podcast guest today is Bryan Buckley, a former Marine Raider — special ops leader — turned CEO of Helmand Valley Growers Company.



In this episode, Bryan not only shares experiences from his military service where he was awarded the Bronze Star, but also what his life as a Marine taught him about influence, and how it has helped him communicate with different groups of people now in the medical marijuana industry, specifically to help veterans manage the symptoms of PTSD.



Second, this weekend I get to participate in an event for a cause that is close to my heart, the Alzheimer's Association. This past July, my dad (who was also an Army veteran) passed away after a 5-year battle with Alzheimers, and I miss him every day.



That's why I'm honored to have been asked to judge a decorating contest for both employees and residents of White Horse Village in Newtown Square, PA as they work to raise $20,000 to end Alzheimer's Disease. They have a slew of events planned which you can learn more about.



If you have a loved one struggling with this horrendous disease, here are some additional resources you may find helpful.



And once again, to all our active and former military service members, a most heartfelt THANK YOU for your service and sacrifice, and the support and sacrifice of your families. It is because you do what you do, that the rest of us have the freedom to safely do what we do!



Here's to your success!

FAQs for Conferences on Video

In the past few weeks I've been running a series of webinars for different organizations on how to look and sound great, feel confident and get results on video conferences, webinars and other virtual events.

Each time, participants freely wrote in questions in the chat box — sometimes they were thought-provoking for me, and sometimes the same question was asked in each event. Either way, they brought up GREAT points, and I wanted to share the insights with you.


That's why we collected all of the questions and put together an FAQ sheet for your easy reference. We grouped the questions into categories including Tools & Equipment, People, Breakout Sessions, Resources, App-related and Other.


I hope you find this resource helpful in jump-starting your Video-Brand REBOOT so you feel CONFIDENT, project LEADERSHIP, and get RESULTS!


(If you want to download a summary of all the tips and strategies I covered in the webinars themselves, you can get them HERE.)

The Persuasive Power Tool of Debate Eight

Whereas President Trump’s state of the union address relied on hyperbole and superlatives as I described here, Friday’s Democratic primary debate round eight demonstrated the impact of the use – or absence – of REFRAINS in the art of persuasion and influence. Let’s look at a few examples of both.

Joe Biden

Biden was the most effective in using repeated refrains. His greatest strength as a candidate is his quantity and quality of experience, and refrains help to highlight that. For example, in talking about abortion rights and supreme court justices, he began each of his achievements with “I’m part of the reason why (Justice name) is on the court,” repeating it for each appointment referenced. In talking about the drug crisis, he started multiple statements with “I’m the guy” (e.g. “that set up drug courts.”)

Refrains like that helped the listener’s brain register the fact that he’s listing accomplishments, and that this is someone who has done a lot in his career, and can ostensibly get even more done if elected.

If he had been more consistent, using the SAME refrain for each list, and used it in answers to more questions, it would have been much more powerful. For example, if he had started dozens of statements with “I’m the guy,” it would have translated into an easy refrain for others to repeat and apply, a-la “Joe’s the guy” or “Joe’s our guy.” That’s very tweetable-and-repeatable.

His messaging team has the right idea, they just don’t know that they have it!

Amy Klobuchar

Klobuchar was on fire Friday night, compared to her usual performance. Among other strengths, she also used a great sequence of refrains, but unfortunately, she waited until her closing statement to employ them. Hers were two-parters: “If you have trouble” (with X,) “I know you and I will fight for you.” She also coupled this with a very poignant story about a man who attended FDR’s funeral, and this combination spoke directly to most of America. It was compelling, relatable, compassionate, authoritative and memorable. If she had worked into any other answers over the course of the two hours, it would have been even more powerful.

Bernie Sanders

Ironically, Sanders is the perfect warning tale of what happens when NO refrains are used. People on both sides of the aisle fear the “democratic socialist” label, which holds many back from supporting him. It is absolutely his (and his team’s) fault for not finding a way to dispel the fear. The well-honed refrain could be the perfect antidote.

Sanders would do well to pick a few key goals and frame them in tweetable-and-repeatable refrains to paint a simple, concrete picture of what people would get if they supported him.

For example,

  • “Raise the minimum wage to $15”
  • “Ensure world-class education for all children”
  • “Make Amazon pay its fair share (of taxes)”
  • “Make prescription drugs affordable”
  • “Rebuild coast-to-coast infrastructure”

are messages that are easy to understand, in a way that would allow Team Sanders to say, “That’s not so scary, is it?” They illustrate outcomes that virtually every voter would support – on principle, who wouldn’t? The details about how it would happen and what would be entailed are topics for later discussions. But people would “get it,” and be able to remember and discuss them with others.

“But wait,” you say, “most candidates on the stage could use these same refrains.”

YES! You're right… but the problem is that NO ONE HAS DONE SO. Whichever candidate is smart enough to pick on this detail can have them. THAT will start to make things interesting.

Andrew Yang and the rest

Of all people, Andrew Yang should have this down to a science (or for him, perhaps an algorithm.) His whole candidacy is centered around his “Freedom Dividend” (a phrase he didn’t use even once this time around, surprisingly) of giving all adult citizens $1000 per month. While he worked the idea into many answers on various topics, he hasn’t chiseled it down to a key refrain that he can work in verbatim each time, mantra-like. It’s clear, but not “sticky” (in the marketing sense) just yet. Close, but no cigar.

Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer all failed miserably on this assignment. They talk a lot, about a lot of issues, but little that they say stands out from their competitors, making performances that were, effectively, forgettable.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: The first candidate who figures this out is the one who will stand out from the herd in a way that speaks to voters and secures the nomination.

It’s NOT About Policy: What does Winning Sound Like?

Last night was Round 3 of the Democratic Primary Debates, with ten qualified candidates in the running. Each candidate had two main goals: to connect with more voters than anyone else, and to convince those voters that they (the candidate) would have the best chance of beating Donald Trump this time next year, an area in which nobody effectively stole the show.

Sure, each candidate had some good moments, but they also had individual polishing to do in other areas: For example, Yang was a human metronome, perpetually shifting his weight from foot to foot as he talked; Sanders sounded like he had phlegm in his throat all night, and Klobuchar’s overall debate image is still generically “nice.” In this context, such little details can be subconsciously off-putting for viewers and detrimental to gaining popularity.

However, as I mentioned earlier in the week, the key to meeting those two goals would be based on who came across as most MEMORABLE in their debate performance. In particular, being (the right kind of) “memorable” at this stage could be achieved if they remembered to include three kinds of information:

1. Refrain-style sound bite campaign promises (that were “tweetable and repeatable”)
2. Personal stories (to make the candidate relatable and therefore likable), and
3. A Call to action at the end.

So how did it pan out?

First, as far as campaign promise sound bites, some were pithier than others, and although a lot of candidates listed specific promises ranging from eliminating our energy dependence on fossil fuels (O’Rourke), or raising teachers’ salaries to a minimum of $60,000 nationwide (Sanders), to guaranteeing access to healthcare (everybody) or giving $1,000 per month to every American (Yang), most lacked two things:

One is saliency: each promise was mentioned once in passing and embedded in a litany of other ideas. None was a repeated refrain, elevated as a fundamental “If you don’t remember anything else, remember this” levels of priority. Think of it this way: If you’re going to the grocery store and someone asks you to buy three things, chances are you will remember them; if they rattle off twelve things, you probably won’t remember any of them.

This was one of the most effective strategies in Donald Trump‘s 2016 campaign with expressions like “make America great again,” “build a wall,” and “repeal Obamacare,” which he repeated over and over again; even people who didn’t like him can still recite them easily today. I guarantee he will do this again in 2020, and any opponent who does not have a clear refrain of a handful of “tweetable and repeatable“ campaign-defining promises will already start out behind the proverbial eight ball.

Second, regarding use of personal stories, the format of Round 3 actually promoted this: the closing statement round was replaced with a question for each candidate to share a personal story about overcoming professional setbacks. Since it was teed up so well, all candidates made contact with the ball one way or another, so to speak. There were however a few who managed to hit it out of the park while others just rounded some of the bases.

As part of a “good, better, best” comparison, some of the candidates who’s final stories were in the “good” category included Bernie Sanders who focused his story on his political career, losing initial races and eventually coming out on top, and Andrew Yang’s story of multiple failed start-up businesses before finally being successful in business. Both implied the “never give up” theme: It is familiar to everyone, but doesn’t necessarily make you sit up and take notice.

Some that were “better” included Pete Buttigieg who shared a moment of vulnerability in describing his decision to “come out” (as gay) in the middle of an election cycle, and Kamala Harris who was always underestimated as a black woman and told that things “can’t be done,” but not letting it stop her. Unsurprisingly, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar‘s stories were all gender-related. All of these were inspiring, touching and relatable, and these kinds of stories will hit home with people of similar demographics, but it’s harder to predict how they will land with others, or even how it will allow any one of them to get more traction than the other two.

But the “best” ones really sucked you in. Cory Booker probably won the storytelling award from a quantity perspective, as he regularly illustrated his points with snippets of dialogue (a great rhetorical device) between him and other key people, allowing listeners to imagine themselves in each moment.

Beto O’Rourke was also given an extra boost this evening because so many of the questions lent themselves directly to the opportunity to talk about the shooting in El Paso, which is still fresh experience for the whole country. He did this very passionately and authoritatively, and most of his counterparts on stage even took a moment at some point in the evening to praise how he had handled the situation.

But Joe Biden stole the show for a quality story, despite a couple of dubious false starts, with the most heart-wrenching tragedies regarding the deaths of his first wife, daughter, and son. It’s a personal tragedy sequence that would make it hard for most people to get out of bed every day. It was humble and relatable and for just a moment, you forgot you were listening to a debate. That’s a winning story.

Finally, in an interesting twist, only ONE person had a call to action. As we just mentioned, unlike in the first and second rounds of debates, this time there was no closing statement round, which would have been the natural place for a call to action.

However, all of the candidates did know about this format change in advance, so they all should have figured out how to weave a call to action into that personal story in the last five seconds, to leave viewers with a clear, simple, immediately completable instruction of what they needed to do as soon as the debates were over. If people complete an action that helps you, they feel more invested in you, and are more likely to support you moving forward, bringing others with them. Most failed completely in this regard.

The only person who DID successfully beat the system was Andrew Yang. Political pundits panned it as a gimmick but I thought it was a very smart “outside the box” move. Yang effectively “gamified” his Freedom Dividend proof of concept in a call to action by personally offering ten families $1,000 per month for a year with the pitch, “If you personally believe you can solve your own problems better than any politician, go to and tell us how $1,000 per month will help you do just that.”

It not only has great “bait,” (who doesn’t think they’re smarter than politicians?) but since it’s a competition, it inspires people to be as passionate as possible in their efforts to explain how this gift will make their lives better, thereby creating an anthology of case studies he will now own and extol as evidence that his plan is really what Americans need and want….and hopefully ten case studies that demonstrate before-and-after lifestyle transformations. Very powerful, and the kind of thing people will keep talking about. Tweetable? Somewhat. Repeatable? Absolutely – watch any talk show today for proof.

Shame on nine out of ten candidates for missing this opportunity.

Overall, each candidate had moments in which they gained and lost inches, but nobody launched ahead. The candidate who can get their campaign-defining refrains together, consistently tell compelling stories and call people to act will be the one to leap to the forefront, and have the best shot at leaping to the presidency.

Let’s see if they figure it out by October.

It's NOT about policy: Winners and losers from last night's #DemDebate will emerge from who was most memorable in three key areas: (1) Who had the simplest campaign promise sound bites, (2) Who told the best stories, and (3) Who had the best call to action. Who were the real winners and losers? It's not who the pundits think. Here's why.

#election2020 #publicspeaking #influence #leadership #communication #executivepresence #politics #joebiden #berniesanders #elizabethwarren #kamalaharria #andrewyang #betoorourke #petebuttegeig #amyklobuchar #juliancastro #corybooker

The Two-Letter Word That Destroys Productive Discussion

One thing I’ve learned over the years is how to take critical comments with a grain (or sometimes a pound) of salt.

Recently, I have been commenting on the Democratic primary debates (such as here and here). Although my lens is always an apolitical analysis of the candidates’ communication effectiveness, I knew that anything related to national politics would open me up to possible criticism, given how personal it is to so many people.

Naturally, there are those who have agreed and supported my efforts and those who have not. Unsurprisingly, on some platforms the feedback I have gotten is far more “colorful” than others. However, I was struck by an important pattern in some of the comments, and how it changed my willingness to engage with the contributors.

In particular, there were fans of candidates whose performance weaknesses I critiqued who were unhappy with the fact that I had voiced any sort of criticism of “their” candidate at all. But it was HOW they expressed this displeasure that made all the difference. It all came down to two letters: BE vs. DO.

Some objectively referenced points I had made and why they thought my analysis was off. In contrast, others preferred to attack me personally for having said anything negative about their favorite candidate in the first place. Those people used the very simple but powerful verb, “to be.” Some of the most unfiltered contributions ranged from telling me “you are weird” to calling me a “lunatic” and even a “psychopath.” By using this language, they chose to attack my essence, who I am (“be”) as a person.

On the other hand, people who told me why they disagreed with the assessment itself implicitly used an equally simple and powerful verb: “to do.” They disagreed with what I did: Specifically, I made assertions they didn’t like.

Discrepancy between these two approaches had profound effects on my treatment of those comments, and have equally profound implications for constructive conversation and conflict resolution on the whole.

People who attack who I am with “be” language are showing me that they are neither open to discussion nor interested in respectful dialogue. It also shows that they missed the underlying purpose of all of my posts in the first place! When I receive those comments, my decision has become simply to ignore them, since I see no value in trying to engage rationally with someone who preferred emotional, vitriolic, and personal attacks.

In contrast, when people used “do” language, I am much more interested in exploring their line of thought, finding common ground, or at least achieving mutual understanding.

When I read comments like, “I disagree with your assertion that candidate X should have…”, I genuinely want to understand the reasons why. They didn’t assume the worst in me as a person, lob insults or otherwise attack me personally. I love a good debate, and someone who could present their counter argument to me in an intelligent, respectful and objective way piques my interest and inspires me to continue the exchange. In one exchange, I went back and forth several times with a contributor and in the end his comment was, “Vocal Impact Productions, we are in agreement then…”

What’s the moral to the story? In looking to make connections and more, two little letters – to be versus to do – can be the turning point between building the bridge and blowing it up.

I sincerely thank all of those who have commented on any of my posts, and invite you all to continue to discuss and debate with me on any subject, especially as I continue to analyze the communication effectiveness of the candidates in the upcoming rounds of debates. I equally welcome your disagreement as your praise. What matters most to me is that we get to engage in civil and productive discourse.

I hope that these strategies help you to promote such dialogs in your work and home conversations as well. Just remember the key: when in disagreement, disagree with the person’s statement or behavior (what they DO) without judging the person (who you see them to BE). Therein lies the power to bring people together AND affect meaningful, positive change.

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.

Why You Should Speak Like a Leader

If someone asked you what you thought were the most important qualities in a leader, what you say? If you’re like me, expertise, confidence, experience, and being a good listener would have been your instinctive responses. But guess what: research shows we missed the big two.

A recent study indicated that all strong personal and professional relationships are based two factors: “competence,” and “warmth”. “Warmth” matters because it shows a lack of intentional threat. And “competence” goes along with warmth because it implies that you won’t accidentally harm someone either. The combination lets people trust your potential as a leader. It reminds me of physicians’ Hippocratic Oath, to first and foremost “do no harm.”

But it’s not just whether you are warm and competent: the real question is whether other people believe that you are. At that point it’s critical to consider how these broad definitions of warmth and competence are identified. This is where the ability to speak like a leader becomes of critical importance.

For example, what do warmth and competence sound like? Warmth tends to reflect feelings and behaviors, and competence generally reflects skills, but based on the above definitions of warmth and competence, your communication skills will drastically influence your trustworthiness on both fronts.

Let’s take a look at a few factors that can influence how your communication style allows your warmth and competence to be visible to all.

Word choice

Of course your message needs to be factually accurate and true, but it goes beyond that. When you explain something, do you use tons of jargon and give way more detail than the listener wants, needs or can understand? Do you seem uncomfortable or unconfident when answering questions? Do your explanations get “lost in the weeds”? These habits can undermine the perception of warmth because it seems like you don’t really understand or trust me, and if you don’t trust me, why would I trust you?

If nothing else, avoid fillers like um, like, you know, or sort of. They make it sound like you don’t even trust what you’re saying, which erodes the perception of competence.

Using relatable stories, common vocabulary and a clear and logical flow, on the other hand, make it much easier for others to understand and appreciate what you’re saying. This transparency allows them to see you as a more trustworthy leader.


Regardless of what you want to say, the way the words sound as they roll – or stumble – off the tongue, will reinforce or undermine that foundation of trust. Do you speak at a volume and speed that is comfortable for the listeners? Does your inflection (intonation highs and lows) draw the listeners’ attention to important words, reflecting your personal interest in the topic and adding vocal interest for the listener? These seemingly small details support your image of warmth and competence because it shows you are focusing on meeting the needs of the audience. Mumbling, rushing, and monotonous, run-on sentences will all have the opposite effect.

Facial expressions

Lastly, your physical communication (facial expressions, movement and body language) is, ironically, the most powerful factor in your appearance of credibility, because it is the biggest distractor if it does not reinforce the inherent content of your message.

Even if you are an expert in your content, and even if your voice is strong or clear, facial expressions such as occasional eye-rolling, frowning, staring or lack of eye contact, or biting your lip can signal your deeper, underlying negative feelings about what you are saying, from arrogance and contempt to insecurity. Remember to smile when appropriate, make eye contact with everyone without staring them down, and keep a neutral listening face in order to reassure the audience of the sincerity of your intentions.

Regardless of the seniority of your position, bearing these points in mind will help you reinforce the impression of being both warm and competent, and come across as a natural leader.


Do you have other questions or feedback about effective leadership communication? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss it with me personally!

The 4-Word Secret to Confident Public Speaking

I work with a lot of clients on a wide variety of skill sets. For many, the primary focus is public speaking. The story is common: You’re confident in front of your team, but things change when you have to speak to larger groups, high-stakes audiences or groups of people you don’t know as well. That’s when your heart starts to race, your palms get sweaty, your face flushes red, and worst of all is the stream of self-defeating “what if” scenarios that start to race through your mind.

What if I draw a blank?
What if I do something wrong?
What if they don’t like me?
What if I don’t sound like an expert?
What if I can’t answer their questions?

These self-defeating questions are what is referred to as “head trash.” It will pile up, fester, and become overwhelming unless you take action to get rid of it and replace it with something more productive.

When talking to one particular client whose head trash was getting the best of her, I said: “I’m going to tell you a secret that will change everything. It’s just four little words, but they’re the secret to speaking with complete confidence. I want you to write them down in big letters, and tape the message to your computer, bathroom mirror, laptop, door or anywhere you’ll see it regularly. Will you do that?”

“Yes,” she agreed, and grabbed her pen.

Then I told her the secret: “IT’S…NOT… ABOUT… YOU.”

She wrote it down, then stared at it, digesting its meaning.

“Here’s the key,” I explained. When you give any presentation, your focus should be on customer service. Your primary responsibility and goal is to ensure that the audience has the best experience possible. Is your topic important? Is it interesting? Do you love it? Help them understand why, and share that passion with them.”

I told her, “Don’t be afraid to make eye contact. Each and every person there wants to feel like you’re talking to them personally. Like they’re the only person there. Look at each person with that goal in mind, to let them know that they matter to you. It makes them feel like they’re part of the event, and that’s critical.”

I could see that she was processing what I was telling her, so I continued. “Think about it: When you go to hear a speaker, do you sit there critiquing them the whole time, hoping to catch a mistake? Of course not. If they make lots of mistakes or flounder, that makes everyone uncomfortable. You’re just hoping that they’ll be interesting and give you some important information to make it worth your while to have shown up. You are rooting for their success, because if they do well, you’ll have a good experience, which is what you really want in the end. That’s exactly what your audience is hoping for from you too.”

She was quiet for a moment, so I asked, “How do you feel about that?”

“Honestly?” she said, “As soon as you said it’s not about me, I instantly felt relieved. I can focus on taking care of the audience, because it is important that they feel like they learned something important. Then it’s not about being perfect, whatever that means. Suddenly, it all seems like a very reachable goal. I know I can do this.”

So take out your “head trash,” and focus on serving your audience. You can start with thinking about what kind of speaker you’d want to listen to if you were in audience, and then work on letting those qualities shine through. Put the audience first, and you’ll find a confidence and level of connection you never imagined possible.


Does your head trash get in your way of being a powerful, confident public speaker? If so, contact me at or click here to schedule a 20-minute focus call to discuss them with me personally!