3 Simple Communication Tips That Turned This Producer Into a Hollywood Icon

The communication tips I learned in a recent interview from iconic Hollywood producer Brian Grazer are so insightful, I almost kept them to myself! But that wouldn’t be fair to the readers of Talking Leadership, would it? You’re here to get fresh insights from billionaires, CEOs, entrepreneurs and business leaders.  So here goes.

Brian Grazer and director Ron Howard teamed up forty years ago to form Imagine Entertainment. They’ve made some of the highest-grossing and iconic movies and television shows of our time: A Beautiful Mind, Splash, Apollo 13, American Gangster, 8 Mile, The Da Vinci Code, Arrested Development, and 100 others.

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I caught up with Grazer to talk about his new book. It’s titled, Face to Face: The Art of Human Connection. Here are 3 tips that Grazer credits for propelling his career from an entry-level clerk to the top of Hollywood’s A-list.

 

1). Seek out curiosity conversations

When Grazer first started in the business, he set a goal to meet one new person a day in the movie business—and to learn one nugget of wisdom from that person. He then expanded the goal to meet to one person a week from outside the industry. Forty years later, he still sets up “curiosity conversations.” Grazer reaches out to people he’s curious about to talk to them for one hour. He has other motive than to learn something from them that will broaden his mind and leave him inspired, uplifted, and curious to know even more. As Grazer’s influence grew, so did the caliber of curiosity conversations. Grazer has had conversations with a who’s who of leadership over the years: Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama, Warren Buffett, Sara Blakely, Isaac Asimov and countless others.

Be curious and keep an open mind and open heart.

2). Establish trust with eye contact

Grazer gave me the simplest and most profound advice he’s ever received—and he’s used the tip for decades to convince studio heads, actors, directors and funders to back his ideas. Strong relationships are based on trust, Grazer says. And trust starts with eye contact. According to Grazer, “Eye contact is the first, simplest and most important step to get on that bridge to human connection. Nobody is going to make any major decision in your favor unless they feel a human connection. It all begins with eye contact.”

eye contact matters.

3). Pitch ideas with a universal theme

Grazer told me that early in his career, he wrote a story about a mermaid who falls in love with a regular guy. Nobody wanted to take a chance on it. A mermaid movie was a hard sell. Grazer made one switch to his pitch and landed Disney as the studio that made Splash, one of the highest-grossing films of 1984 and the movie that made Tom Hanks a star. Instead of pitching a ‘mermaid movie,’ Grazer reframed the pitch. Instead of a mermaid movie, Grazerexplained how  it was inspired by his personal search for true love in Los Angeles, “a place where everything—including relationships—seemed superficial.” Finding a deep connection seemed unattainable to Grazer at the time, almost like falling in love with a mermaid. From that day on, Grazer pitched ideas with universal themes that everyone could relate: love, family, unity, self-respect, or survival against the odds.

Find a theme that relates to everyone and you’re more likely win people over.

Brian GrazerFull disclosure—The personal interviews I have with leaders like Brian Grazer (see photo on left) are my version of curiosity conversations. I’m glad I can share them with you in this blog. Please tell your friends about it!

Find your passion, tell your story.

Carmine

The Tiger Woods Hero’s Journey in One Remarkable Graphic

Tigermania is sweeping the nation after Woods’s remarkable comeback, winning the Masters after his first victory at the Augusta National golf course 15 years earlier. “It’s a story we’ll be telling our grand-kids,” said one spectator.

Nike, the brand that stuck with Woods through ups and downs, didn’t wait that long. It released a 51-second ad within minutes of Woods putting on the green jacket. Nike is a brand steeped in narrative. Its senior executives are even coached to be ‘corporate storytellers.’

Nike knows a good story when it sees it. A good story has a beginning, middle and an end. A great story has highs and lows. And humans are wired to love great stories.

Nike scored big this week with its ad showing videos and images of Tiger Woods from the age of 3 to winning his fifth Masters at the age of 43. Words on the screen reminded viewers that Tiger has experienced “every high and every low.”

The headlines that accompanied Woods’s victory also framed his journey in the context of epic stories. In the New York Times, Thomas Friedman used Tiger as a metaphor for the ‘game of life.’ One writer declared, “The Greatest Comeback Story in the History of Sports.” A UK newspaper called it “A True Story of Redemption.”

What’s going on here?

Woods’s story is irresistible because it follows a time-tested formula that mythologist Joseph Campbell identified in his 1949 book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.

In its simplest form Campbell’s hero is called to an adventure (Tiger’s quest to become the greatest golfer of all time), meets a mentor who provides wisdom along the journey (Tiger’s dad, Earl), faces challenges and temptations (Tiger’s domestic and physical problems), and returns triumphantly as a transformed person (Tiger wins the Masters for the first time in nearly 15 years) and “becomes the person he wanted to be,” according to Sports Illustrated.

In filmmaking and storytelling, the challenges—which Campbell called ‘The Road of Trials’—must be serious and progressively difficult because it’s in the struggle that the hero discovers what they’re made of. Screenwriters call it the ‘all is lost’ moment when the hero appears to be defeated. Awful things did happened to Tiger Woods and we knew all about them.

Yes, Woods’s adventure follows Campbell’s structure. And his trials were awful, which makes the road to redemption all the more powerful. According to Campbell, it’s through struggle that we learn who we are and what we’re made of.

The Tiger Woods comeback story is a reminder that we process our world through the lens of narrative. Stories stick. Stories educate. Stories inspire. Share more of them.

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker, a bestselling author whose books have been translated into 40 languages, a communication advisor to the world’s most admired brands, and a graduate school instructor at Harvard University. 

Public Speaking is No Longer a ‘Soft Skill.’ It’s Your Key to Success in Any Field

Carmine Gallo speaks to banking executives about the role of persuasion in leadership.

After interviewing billionaires and CEOs, entrepreneurs and scientists for my new book, Five Stars, I’ve concluded that it’s time to stop referring to public speaking as a ‘soft skill.’ A wealthy investor at Y-Combinator, the iconic investment firm behind startups such as Reddit and Airbnb, convinced me to stop using the term. During our conversation, he called out my mistake.

“Let’s talk about a soft skill like storytelling,” I said.

“Soft?” he shot back. “If an entrepreneur can’t tell a convincing story, I’m not investing. You call it soft. I call it fundamental.”

Warren Buffett would agree. He says investing in yourself is the best investment a person can make—and public speaking is the best investment of all. Buffett has put precise cash value on communication. “The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now — at least — is to hone your communication skills,” Buffet says.

The Growing Value of Changing Minds

In a world built on ideas, the persuaders— the ones who can win hearts and change minds—have a competitive edge. While researching my book, I spoke to economists and historians like Deirdre McCloskey at the University of Illinois. She conducted an impressive research project to prove that old-fashioned rhetoric—persuasion—is responsible for a growing share of America’s national income.

McCloskey analyzed 250 occupations covering 140 million people in the U.S. In some cases, persuasion played a more limited role than others (think firefighters versus public relations specialists). McCloskey reached the following conclusion: Persuasion is responsible for generating one­ quarter of America’s total national income. She expects it to rise to 40% over the next twenty years. McCloskey’s research was taken up by another economist in Australia who reached a similar conclusion.

To understand why persuasion is no longer a soft skill, we need a short history lesson. In 1840, nearly 70 percent of the U.S. labor force worked on farms; today less than 2 percent of Americans work in agriculture. Manufacturing’s share of the labor force has dropped from 40 percent in 1950 to under 20 percent today. Income from manufacturing continues to fall as robots replace workers and artificial intelligence takes over repetitive tasks once handled by humans. The main task of the jobs that are left—and the new ones created—is to change minds. As McCloskey explains, “Nothing happens voluntarily in an economy, or a society, unless someone changes her mind. Behavior can be changed by compulsion, but minds cannot.”

By calling public speaking a ‘soft skill,’ it diminishes the skill’s value in a world that cherishes the ‘hard sciences.’ Public-speaking isn’t soft. It’s the equivalent of cold, hard cash.

How Bill Gates’ Favorite Infographic Will Make You a Better Communicator

Meeting with world leaders this week at the Davos conference in Switzerland, Bill Gates gave a public shout-out to the economist Max Roser. Specifically, Gates said that Roser has created his “favorite infographic,” one that depicts “just how much life has improved over the last two centuries.”

The graphic intersects two of my favorite subjects: the visual display of information and the enormous progress we’re making each and every day.

I like to consider myself part of a group of writers and thinkers who call themselves The New Optimists. They include Gates, Steven Pinker, Warren Buffett, and Hans Rosling who passed away last year but whose legacy is carried on by his family. Optimists don’t focus on what’s wrong. They focus on what we’ve done right so far and use the information to improve the future.

Rosling once said that if people knew about this information, they’d be having a party every day. We don’t celebrate every day, of course, because psychologically we’re wired for threats—bad news spreads much faster than good news.

The graphic is a wonderful illustration of the concept. Instead of using percentages, which are often abstract, it breaks down progress per 100 people. For example, let’s take extreme poverty. In 1820, 94 out of every 100 people in the world lived in extreme poverty. Today, the number of people living in extreme poverty is 10 out of every 100. The same type of breakdown shows massive improvement in basic education, literacy, democracy, vaccination rates and child mortality.

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If you look at the original research that made up the charts, you’ll find that it requires about 4,000 words to explain what you see. Or you can look at the visual and get the gist of it in under a minute.

When you deliver complex information in a presentation, website or social media, keep in mind that people are visual learners for the most part. Photos, graphics and animations are much more powerful than text alone.

A New AI Machine That’s Mastering the Human Art of Debate

A new IBM machine that runs on artificial intelligence is making a convincing case that it’s mastering the human art of persuasion.

“Project Debater” can analyze 300 million articles on a given topic and construct a persuasive speech about it. It would take a human—reading twenty-four hours a day—about 2,000 years to get through the same material. Project Debater does it in 10 minutes.

After speaking to IBM researchers and AI specialists, I can confidently tell you that the machine will not replace humans anytime soon. Yes, it has profound implications for how we make decisions to solve the complex challenges we might face. But while Project Debater can synthesize human arguments into a reasonably coherent speech; it does not have feelings one way or the other. It doesn’t have human emotion.

Neuroscientists like Antonio Damasio have discovered that, without emotions, humans would be incapable of making even the smallest decision. Without emotion, “we wouldn’t have music, art, religion, science, technology, economics, politics, justice, or moral philosophy,” says Damasio.

After Garry Kasparov lost a chess match to an IBM machine in 1997, he felt “unsettled.” But today he says that humans and machines can work together to advance the world and to make better decisions. In a TED Talk, Kasparov said, “Machines have calculations. We have understanding. Machines have instructions. We have purpose. Machines have objectivity. We have passion…There’s one thing only a human can do. That’s dream. So let us dream big.”

Kasparov’s observation echoes the comments of a prominent AI specialist who was recently featured on 60 Minutes. His name is Kai-Fu Lee and he’s the author of AI Super Powers. I spoke to Lee directly after the book was published last year.

“AI can handle a growing number of non-personal, non-creative, routine tasks,” Lee told me. But Lee says the skills that make us uniquely human are ones that no machine can replicate. The jobs of the future, says Lee, will require creative, compassionate, and empathetic leaders who know how to create trust, build teams, inspire service, and communicate effectively.

“People don’t want to interact with robots for communication-oriented jobs. They don’t want to listen to robots making speeches, leading the company, giving pep talks, or earning our trust.”

Lee gave me a piece of advice that I’d like to share with all of you. “Let machines be machines and let humans be humans.” Choose to do what humans do best—inspire, collaborate, communicate, and ignite the imagination.

Why the Best Ideas Fit on the Back of a Napkin, According to Richard Branson

After twenty years of studying persuasion, I’m convinced the best pitch should fit on the back of a napkin. Here’s why.

Americans lost a true maverick and innovator when Southwest Airlines founder, Herb Kelleher, passed away at the age of 87. While the business news was, understandably, focused on the brand’s financial success, I’ve always been intrigued by one extraordinary event at a St. Antonio bar in 1967—the day the idea for Southwest was first planted.

I devote an entire chapter to Kelleher in my book, The Storyteller’s Secret. The story goes like this. At the St. Anthony Club in San Antonio in 1966, two friends meet for drinks at the bar. Rollin King is a Texas businessman. Herb Kelleher is a gregarious, whiskey-swigging lawyer. They’ve been kicking around a business plan to get into the airline business. What happens next is brand-making history.

Rollins reaches for a cocktail napkin. At the top of the triangle, he writes “Dallas.” On the bottom left, he writes “San Antonio.” On the bottom right, he writes “Houston.” Their vision was simple—to create a small, local airline connecting three Texas cities. People would fly instead of drive between them.

“You’re crazy,” Kelleher responded. “Let’s do it.”

And with that, Southwest Airlines was born. It democratized air travel for millions of Americans who, previously, couldn’t afford to fly.

This week the hotel commemorated the meeting with a special edition cocktail napkin. They sent me a photo of the design which you can see below. If you’re near the hotel, stop in for a drink and feel the energy!

If a cocktail napkin isn’t handy, a beer coaster will do. Just ask Richard Branson—which I did. In this video interview with the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of Virgin, I ask Branson why he prefers pitches that can fit on a napkin, envelope or—in a real case—on a beer coaster.

Baseball Legend Reads Carmine’s Books to Raise His Public-Speaking Game

Alex Rodriguez chooses Carmine’s “Talk Like TED” as a must-read book.

Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) had one of the most storied careers in baseball history. Today he’s learning about storytelling to become more persuasive and successful as an entrepreneur and investor.

I was thrilled to see that A-Rod included one of my books in his 2019 reading list. The book is “Talk Like TED” which is one of the most popular public-speaking books in the U.S. and in many parts of the world.

As the CEO of A-Rod Corp, Rodriguez has expanded beyond the baseball field to invest in real estate, sports, wellness and media. He’s also a guest shark on ABC’s Shark Tank. A-Rod’s portfolio of assets is worth close to half a billion dollars. With that kind of wealth, the price of a book is minimal, but I hope the lessons he learns will be invaluable.

Thanks, A-Rod!

-Carmine

Dream Bigger With the New Book Bill Gates Calls His ‘Favorite of All Time’

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After reading Steven Pinker’s new book, Enlightenment Now, you might never complain again about a delayed flight or a long line at Costco. And if you do, you’ll feel bad about it.

Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and Pulitzer-prize winning finalist, has written a book that Bill Gates calls his “favorite book of all time.” In the 500-page book, Pinker tells “the greatest story seldom told.”  What is the story? In a sentence,

 

The world has made spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being and almost no  one knows about it.

Pinker reminds us of the daily gifts we take for granted. For example:

“Newborns who will live more than eight decades, markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger, and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection… critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket.”

The graph below shows the stunning progress that America and the developed world has made since the recorded calendar began in the first century. As Pinker notes, the history of civilization has been marked by extreme poverty among everyone except a few nobles. Massive wars that collectively killed millions were common, as was famine, starvation, and early deaths (most children never made it past their 5th birthday), and no access to the life-saving medicines, vaccines, and procedures that have only arrived in the last half century.  Around 1820, something changed. The ideals of the enlightenment—freedom of ideas—began to flourish. And then suddenly—BOOM—the world made “spectacular progress in every single measure of human well-being.”

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The Mental Bias That Will Hold You Back
So why don’t people know this story? Blame a mental bug we’re all born with—the availability bias. In 1971, Nobel prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and his academic partner Amos Lewis Tversky discovered the bias. They defined it like this.

People estimate the probability of an event or the frequency of a kind of thing by the ease with which instances come to mind.

In other words, if you’re glued to the news and you stick to the echo-chamber on Facebook or among your friends and peers, your view of the world will be distorted by the problems and bad news you’ll hear over and over.  Our brains are wired in such a way that we look at the available information and extrapolate the future based on what we see today.

According to Pinker, “Every day the news is filled with stories about war, terrorism, crime, pollution, inequality, drug abuse, and oppression…news is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying, ‘I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out.’”

What does all this have to do with leadership? Bill Gates says you cannot move the world forward if you’re not motivated by the progress that is happening every day. It’s only by learning about what works that we can spread the progress. If you consume negative news, studies show you’ll become more glum, have a higher and distorted picture of risk, higher anxiety, lower mood levels, more hostility, and—very dangerous—fall into learned helplessness, which means you give up on bettering yourself. And remember, A great leader sees around the corner. You’ll be more successful if you recognize and manage the bias.

Great Leaders Have Perspective

Pinker advised us to maintain perspective. “Not every problem is a Crisis, Plague, Epidemic, or Existential Threat, and not every change is The of This, the Death of That, or the Dawn of a Post-Something Era…problems are inevitable; but problems are solvable,” Pinker writes.

The story of progress is truly “heroic, glorious, and uplifting.” If you need a lift, pick up Pinker’s book. It might change your life–it did for me and Bill Gates.

Carmine Gallo is a popular keynote speaker and bestselling author. Carmine’s new book, Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great, is available for pre-order (June, 2018 St. Martin’s Press)

New Research Finds That Your Customers Remember ‘Moments,’ Not Events

Looking back at a photo I posted to Facebook reminds me of a new area of research in the area of customer service. Your customers don’t recall every aspect of an experience–they remember moments instead.

On a trip to The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, I bumped into the hotel’s general manager. I casually mentioned that I was there to speak at an event and how impressed I was with the hotel’s service staff. He thanked me, asked my name, and ducked into a meeting.

Two hours later, I went back to my room. On the desk I found a bag and a handwritten note. Inside the bag, the GM had given me a gift of a package of rare salts sold in the hotel restaurant. The photo below is the picture I posted to Facebook and Instagram.

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According to Dan and Chip Heath in their book, The Power of Moments, “Research has found that in recalling an experience, we ignore most of what happened and focus instead on a few particular moments.” What are you doing to create wow moments for you guests or customers?

A popular local restaurant in my community sits in the middle of a winery and a stunning golf course. The Wente Vineyards winery has long reputation in the Livermore Valley, having started in 1883. Wente introduced chardonnay to the region and is associated with the California style of chardonnay that’s popular around the world.

The restaurant at Wente Vineyards is elegant and Chef Mike Ward excels at courses that make the most of Wente’s local garden, wines, and even its own cattle ranch. But the staff   (called ‘Ambassadors’) also excel at creating moments.

Recently, when Chef Mike heard that it was my wife’s birthday, he walked out of the kitchen with a large, exotic black truffle that he sources from Italy. He made a show of shaving the truffle onto her risotto entree. The dinner included fabulous wines and great food, but what do you think Vanessa chose to Facebook? The moment.

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Earlier in the week, a group of parents from a local school visited the same Wente restaurant. I know some of the parents and follow them on Facebook. I wasn’t at the dinner, so I don’t know what they ordered or anything else about their experience–but I saw a moment that stuck with them. The restaurant staff had a prepared a menu with a customized greeting. Again, a small gesture, but a great moment one of the parents chose to post on Facebook.

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Yes, they say make each moment count. But when it comes to customer service, some moments are remembered more than others.

Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker and bestselling author. His new book, Five Stars, shows readers how to master the ancient of communication to thrive in the age of ideas (On Sale June, 2018, St. Martin’s Press)

 

Marc Benioff ‘s Master Class in Public Speaking

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Salesforce CEO and billionaire Marc Benioff opened his keynote at DreamForce 2017 by doing something very few presenters have the courage to do. He delivered the presentation as he walked among the audience. It’s a technique that Benioff has mastered over years of hosting the blockbuster conference/party in San Francisco.

More than 170,000 people are registered for DreamForce this year. It’s a massive conference that Benioff kicks off with a two-hour presentation where he introduces new ideas, features customers who are in the audience, and introduces other speakers.

The ability to walk around a massive conference hall while delivering a presentation requires 1). courage and 2). practice. It takes courage to walk out from behind a lectern, and to make eye contact with people who are standing right next to you. It takes practice to know your slides and message so thoroughly that you’re not tied to notes.

Marc Benioff is a storyteller and an engaging/energetic presenter. It’s worth watching one of his astonishing keynotes as a master class in public-speaking.

Carmine Gallo is a keynote speaker and author of the bestselling books “Talk Like TED” and “The Storyteller’s Secret.”