Series on Resilience

Resilience is, in reality, found in the average individual and it can be learned and developed. Resilience should be considered a process, rather than a trait to be had. It is a process of individuation through a structured system with gradual discovery of personal and unique abilities.

A common misapprehension is that resilient people are free from negative emotions or thoughts, remaining optimistic in most or all situations. To the contrary, resilient individuals have, through time, developed proper coping techniques that allow them to effectively and relatively easily navigate around or through crises. In other words, people who demonstrate resilience are people with optimistic attitude and positive emotionality and are, by practice, able to effectively balance negative emotions with positive ones.

You may not have heard of Akio Morita but you’ve undoubtedly heard of his company, Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker that unfortunately didn’t cook rice so much as burn it, selling less than 100 units. This first setback didn’t stop Morita and his partners as they pushed forward to create a multi-billion dollar company.

Series on Resilience

Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed.

These days, Henry Ford is a household name, but it hasn’t always been that way. At 23, Ford was just a machinist’s apprentice with big aspirations. There were a few early failures that taught him valuable lessons and sparked his future success. His first lesson came when he designed his first automobile, the Quadricycle, but it wasn’t fit for mass-production.

Ford’s Detroit Automotive Company had a similar, short-lived history. The board of directors dissolved and the company disbanded. It was a short-lived project and a failure in the eyes of the industry. With a tarnished reputation and no financial backers, Ford was in a bad spot. After months he found the right man – Alexander Malcomson.

He now had the backing he needed to begin creating the automobile he had always envisioned – the Model A. It took 5 more years and countless failures before the Ford Motor Company came out with the world’s best automobile – the Model T. What’s important to notice is Ford’s perseverance and ability to overcome setbacks. He used failure and the feedback gathered from those failures to fine tune his design ideas.

Series on Resilience

Resilience is that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes. Psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback. Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on.

J. K. Rowling, the second wealthiest woman in the world, is a good example of resilience. She was a struggling writer, and at the time of writing her first Harry Potter book, her life was a mess. Rowling was going through a divorce and was left to support herself and her daughter in a tiny flat in London. She was living off of government help and her mother had just passed away, things were in a rut. In 1995, when she completed her first Harry Potter book, it had been rejected by 12 publishers, yet she never gave up. Even a small publishing company told her to get a day job because they didn’t believe her children’s book would be successful. Instead of giving up she decided to devote most of her time to developing the rest of the Harry Potter series and eventually got them published.

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Use of pronouns

Often, the mistake that a public speaker makes is that he makes the speech about him (without realizing it). Perhaps we can take a few lessons from Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in 2012 about how to deliver memorable speeches and become a highly regarded and respected speaker.

What becomes telling is when you starting take note of the different types of pronouns President Obama uses and how often he uses them in his entire speech. In his 21 minutes victory speech, these were the tally of the usage of the different pronouns.

I – 33 times

You/you’re/your – 56 times

We/Us/Our – 110 times

The usage of the different pronouns is key in creating resonance within the speech. A common ratio that public speakers can use to measure their speech effectiveness is the “I/You (We) Ratio” (or I-U Ratio). Great speeches generally have a lower I-U ratio because the focus is not on “I” as an individual but about “You” as an audience and why you should listen and what should you listen out for. During the course of any speech or presentation, the audience is always asking “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “So what?” so it is imperative to always ensure your speech is audience-centric and also, to create value and stake for the audience to listen in to what you have to say.

Considering this was a Presidential Victory speech, it is no surprise that the speech was centered on President Obama himself for some moments as the electorate needed to hear what is President Obama is committed to as the leader of the nation hence the considerable usage of ‘I’ for 33 times.

Yet, it is more important to note how many more times he used the pronouns ‘You/You’re/Your’ and ‘We/Us/Our’ in his speech. The former pronoun classes (56 times) has the effect of creating affinity and personal connection because of how it sounds as if President Obama is talking to you and no one else but yourself.

The latter pronoun classes (110 times) ensures that this speech rallies and involves everyone, including President Obama himself, on the same line and towards a common endeavor. This is all the more important, considering that there was a significant crowd who voted for Romney’s camp as well but now, President Obama has the task of involving and not sidelining them.

Series on Persuasive Speakers: The power of humility

“We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”

That was one of the many bold yet resolute declarations made by the 44th President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama, in his Presidential Acceptance Speech 2012 after a long-fought political tussle with Governor Mitt Romney. Being one of the greatest orators in our times, to describe President Obama’s Acceptance Speech as “electrifying” would hardly be an overstatement.

In every aspect of persuading his audience of his firmly held convictions of “Yes, We can”, converting his cynics of his administration’s commitment to change and compelling the common electorate to believe that he has a role to play in making United States of America great, President Obama has done it impeccably through his speeches. There are definitely many reasons that made President Obama’s Presidential Acceptance Speech in 2012 great. One of the key elements, however, which Obama practiced exhibited throughout his presidency was humility. In every competition, there’s a deserving winner who basks in the limelight and often a neglected “loser(s)” who fades into the shadows of obscurity. Yet with President Obama as the winner of the US Presidential Elections 2012, there was hardly any show of arrogance or hubris.

Instead, President Obama displayed great magnanimity and humility as a leader and fondly embraced his political rivals, Governor Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the early moments of his victory speech.

“We may have battled fiercely, but it’s only because we love this country deeply and we care so strongly about its future. From George to Lenore to their son Mitt, the Romney family has chosen to give back to America through public service and that is the legacy that we honor and applaud tonight. In the weeks ahead, I also look forward to sitting down with Governor Romney to talk about where we can work together to move this country forward.”

The fact that President Obama could have made a cursory appreciation to Governor Romney but he did not and chose to take one step forward to recognize Governor Romney’s lineage and “legacy” of public service, convinces his electorate that this battle was never about him to start with. It was about a common future for America where their intention (both his and Romney’s) behind this political campaigning were driven by love for their country and aspirations for the nation’s future rather than their own pride and ego.

President Obama was quick to embrace and set aside their differences and get to work to forward America. That was his commitment.

Series on Persuasive Speakers – Building a connect

Persuading your audience is more about the audience than the words you use. When trying to convince a person to see your viewpoint, you have to do more than just put your point across. You need to build a connect with the person. Quiet often, people will do something that might not be evidently beneficial for them at first glance if you manage to make them see it from your perspective.

In 2007, the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, knew that he needed help. His social-network site was growing fast, but, at the age of twenty-three, he felt ill-equipped to run it. That December, he went to a Christmas party at the home of Dan Rosensweig, a Silicon Valley executive, and as he approached the house he saw someone who had been mentioned as a possible partner, Sheryl Sandberg, Google’s thirty-eight-year-old vice-president for global online sales and operations. Zuckerberg hadn’t called her before (why would someone who managed four thousand employees want to leave for a company that had barely any revenue?), but he went up and introduced himself. “We talked for probably an hour by the door,” Zuckerberg recalls.

After the holidays, Zuckerberg e-mailed her, and they had the first of many dinners. They met at the Flea Street Café, around the corner from her home in Atherton, but then decided that they needed more privacy. His tiny Palo Alto apartment—which had almost no furniture—wouldn’t work. So for six weeks they met for dinner once or twice a week at Sandberg’s six-bedroom home. Sandberg, who goes to bed early and starts e-mailing at 5 A.M., often had to usher the nocturnal Zuckerberg out at midnight. “It was like dating,” says Dave Goldberg, Sandberg’s husband and the C.E.O. of the online company SurveyMonkey. Sandberg says they asked each other, “What do you believe? What do you care about? What’s the mission? It was very philosophical.”

By February of 2008, Zuckerberg had concluded that Sandberg would be a perfect fit. “There are people who are really good managers, people who can manage a big organization,” he says. “And then there are people who are very analytic or focussed on strategy. Those two types don’t usually tend to be in the same person. I would put myself much more in the latter camp.” Zuckerberg offered her the job of chief operating officer.

People at Google tried to persuade her to stay, pointing out that Facebook’s chief financial officer would not report to her and that she would not be invited to join its board of directors. But eventually she took the job. Later, Sandberg would tell people that Facebook was a company driven by instinct and human relationships.

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Story-telling as a powerful aid

The art of storytelling is often a technique used by successful people to persuade their audience and achieve success.

Once upon a time, a job-seeker underwent a frustrating series of interviews over a five-month period with no job offer. Then the discouraged individual read a book that suggested composing personal stories. Doing so, the job-seeker found, provided him with better interview preparation than any coaching he had ever experienced. Using stories he hadn’t remembered before he read the book, he said, made him more confident, convincing, and persuasive in his interviews. Stories enabled him to present himself in a personable and powerful way to his interviewers. He again used stories during the next round of interviews. The story ends happily with his hiring in an executive position that represented a major advance in his career. The job-seeker is a real person who posted a review on of Annette Simmons’ 2006 book, The Story Factor.

The book, Tell Me About Yourself: Storytelling that Propels Careers, from which this chapter is excerpted, extends the ideas of Simmons and other current authors who tout the value of storytelling. It focuses on a narrow yet powerful use of storytelling — telling stories to advance your career, whether by moving up in your current organization or landing a job in a new organization. The title comes from the most commonly asked question (which isn’t even a question but a request) in job interviews, “Tell me about yourself.” Composing stories to reveal your personal and professional self in response to that “question” is just one way to use storytelling to propel your career.

Simmons writes that the natural reaction of an unfamiliar person whom you hope to influence is to distrust you — until you answer two major questions. The first question is “Who are you?” In resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and interviews, job-seekers attempt to tell who they are, but how often do you think these communications really convey a sense of who the job-seeker is? Simmons’ second question, “Why are you here?” can be translated as “Why are you contacting this employer?” and “Why do you want to work for this organization?”

Stories establish your identity and reveal your personality. Stories satisfy the basic human need to be known. Clearly, being known among employers is a major goal of job-seekers, and it is in large part through resumes, cover letters, portfolios, and employment interviews that employers get to know candidates. Job-seekers can gain the employer’s recognition by integrating story into these career-marketing communications.

Stories establish an emotional connection between storyteller and listener and inspires the listener’s investment in the storyteller’s success. When stories convey moving content and are told with feeling, the listener feels an emotional bond with the storyteller. Often the listener can empathize or relate the story to an aspect of his or her own life. That bond instantly enables the listener to invest emotionally in your success.

Stories illustrate skills, accomplishments, values, characteristics, qualifications, expertise, strengths, and more. Employers don’t want to know merely the dry facts of what you’ve done. They want examples, anecdotes, illustrations — stories. You can showcase just about any skill with a story. Washington advises that “using anecdotes to describe job skills is a highly effective interview technique.” Truly scrutinizing the stories behind your life and career enables you to recognize patterns that reveal and reinforce who you are, what you can do, how you are qualified, what you know, what you value, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve accomplished.

Stories paint vivid pictures. Remember when your parents read or told you stories when you were a child? You undoubtedly visualized the story as a sort of movie in your brain. Job-seekers can use colorful and even entertaining stories to imprint lasting visual images onto employers’ minds.

Stories explain key life/career decisions, choices, and changes. Especially revealing to employers are personal and career stories about coping strategies, risky moves, choices made under pressure, imperfections, and lessons learned from mistakes, failures, and derailments.

Stories told well help you portray yourself as a strong communicator. Effectively using stories in job-seeking venues offers the further benefit of demonstrating your communication skills, which is huge because most employers seek candidates who communicate well. David Boje, a well-known scholar in the organizational-storytelling field, wrote in 1991 that “people who are more skilled as storytellers and story interpreters seem to be more effective communicators than those who are less skilled.”


Series on Persuasive Speakers: Being empathetic

The biggest secret to being a persuasive speaker is actually very simple. Connect with your audience. Show them you care. And if the time comes, prove your empathy.

Born into poverty, Joe Girard sold 13,001 cars over the course of 15 years-not fleet sales but sales to individual car buyers. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the world’s greatest salesman. In 1973, he sold 1,425 cars, and in one month, he sold 174-a record that still stands today. HBR (Harvard Business Review) senior editor M. Ellen Peebles spoke with Girard about overcoming personal hardship and how he created thousands of relationships, one at a time. Now out of the car business, he speaks to people around the world about how to sell.

“When you bought a car from me, you didn’t get just a car. You got me. I would break my back to service a customer; I’d rather service a customer than sell another car. After a few years, there was pandemonium outside my office, there were so many people waiting to see me. So I started seeing people by appointment only. And the reason people were willing to wait a week for an appointment rather than go buy from someone else right away is because they knew that if they got a lemon, I would turn it into a peach.”

“People are sick to death of sitting around in service departments. When I was selling cars, my right-hand man could go to the service department while the customer’s car was at the curb and get three or four mechanics to come right out with toolboxes and take care of the customer in 25 minutes. Sometimes they would install $15 or $20 worth of parts-a lot of money back then-and the customer would say, “How much do I owe you?”

“Nothing,” I’d say. “I love you. Just come back.” You get service like that, where are you going to buy next time? That’s what makes businesses big: word of mouth. If you create it, it’ll make you. If you don’t, it’ll break you.

And the reason I could get the mechanics to come out right away is that I loved them, and I let them know. I made a deal with a nice Italian restaurant, and every third Wednesday I would take all of the service people to dinner-the people who wrote up the service orders, mechanics, the parts department, everyone. I would eat with them and tell them how much I appreciated them, how much I loved them. Once a year, I invited all the service people and their families over to a big barbecue at my house, to eat with me and my family. This is something that all executives should think about: There are service people in every company. They are the ones you wine and dine. You say you love your customers. What if they aren’t so likable?”

“It’s like a marriage. You need to like each other. And if you treat people right, you will love them. I told my customers that I liked them, that I loved them, all the time. I would send a card every month with a different picture, a different greeting, and the card would say, “I like you.” I would close a sale, and I would say to my customer, “I love you.” I even gave them buttons that said, “I like you.” People may have had to wait for an appointment, but when I was with them, I was with them body and soul.”

“I grew up in the ghettos of Detroit. I started selling cars in 1963 at the age of 35. I was out of a job, had no savings, and was in serious debt after a failed home construction business, and my wife told me there was no food in the house to feed our children. I pleaded with a local car dealer for a desk and a phone and promised that I would not take business away from any of the other salespeople. I wore my finger black dialing a rotary phone trying to get leads, and that night, when all the other salesmen had gone home, I saw a customer walk in the door. What I saw was a bag of groceries walking toward me. I literally got down on my hands and knees and begged, and I made my first sale. The customer said that with everything he had bought over the years-insurance, houses, cars-he had never seen anyone beg like that. Then I borrowed $10 from my boss against my commission and bought food for my family. So I appreciate every person who bought from me so much. I would tell them, “I thank you, and my family thanks you. I love you.”

Series on Persuasive Speakers: Connecting with the audience

The ability to speak and persuade your audience is one of the most important weapons you need in your arsenal if you want to grow as an entrepreneur and succeed. This is the story of Adam Braun, an ordinary person who followed his passion, defied the skeptics, conquered paralyzing stage fright, mastered his pitch, and created something extraordinary.

Every ninety hours the nonprofit Adam started with $25 — Pencils of Promise — opens a new school in developing regions. Today Adam’s organization has broken ground on 200 schools and delivered 15 million educational hours to children in Laos, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. It all started when Braun turned 25, left a six-figure job, and decided to create a life story worth telling. But first he had to overcome a terrifying fear of public speaking.

“The ability to captivate another individual through storytelling is essential to the early stage growth of a company,” Braun says. “I spent a lot of time refining how I presented our work through thousands of conversations. I learned the parts of our story that got people’s eyes to light up and their heads to nod. I also learned when they started to fidget or their eyes glazed over. Through persistent communication we refined the language through which we describe the organization. It still remains the most critical part of driving the growth of the organization.”

Braun wasn’t always a confident speaker. “You can’t find someone who was more scared of public speaking than I was. My heart raced, my hands were shaking, and my eyes would burn like I had just cut an orange and rubbed my eyes with it. My body would literally shut down,” he acknowledged. Braun realized he had to grow in confidence, refine his public speaking skills, and hone his pitch if he hoped to attract the really big donors required to take his nonprofit to the next level.

Three little girls that Braun met in the small village of Pha Theung, Laos, would prove to be his muse and they remain an essential component of his pitch. In March 2009 Braun was scouting the location for the organization’s first preschool. In the tiny village where the average family makes under $300 a year he met the girls who would become his first students. Braun took out a simple Canon point-and-shoot and recorded a short video. Adam shows the 40-second video in his presentations. “There’s an authenticity to the footage because it’s not super high quality and it’s in the first person. You feel as though you are witnessing a special moment. The video is less than one minute long and it’s a powerful element for drawing out an emotional response.”

Once the video is over Adam advances to a photograph taken four months later showing the same girls sitting in their seats in the first Pencils of Promise PMSEY school. “Showing the before and after is incredibly powerful and allows people to go on an emotional journey that elicits a lot of reaction,” Braun explained.

In one speech Adam was incredibly nervous and “consumed with anxiety.” His voice began shaking. His body was shutting down. “But when I showed the video of Nuth, Nith, and Tamund [the three preschool girls] I was reminded of why I was there and began to speak more confidently.” Braun received a standing ovation that day and his confidence was strengthened immeasurably. Braun learned two important lessons. First, the more you speak publicly the more confidence you’ll gain. “Put yourself in the arena. When you do it often enough you overcome personal challenges that lead to fear.” Second, confidence comes from talking about what you know, telling personal stories, and speaking from the heart.

Braun is a student of persuasion. He knows the human brain has an emotional and a logical, or “rational,” side. “The rational center leads us to make conclusions and the emotional center leads us to action,” says Braun. “A great pitch must acknowledge the viability of the product or service, but the focus must be on igniting the person’s emotional core. ”

After thousands of pitches, Braun has also learned a valuable lesson about one-on-one conversations. “I made the mistake early on of thinking I could win people over by giving them a compelling reason to change somebody else’s life. What I learned over time is that as humans we naturally have self-interests. The most powerful way to engage someone is to provide them with an avenue through which they can change their own life and feel good about doing so by changing another.” Braun achieves this goal by listening for 75 percent of the conversation and talking for the other 25 percent. “It’s not about the presenter; it’s about the chance that the audience has to become the hero by completing a well-defined task,” Braun suggests. “When I do a one-on-one pitch, I’m more interested in understanding the person on the other side of the table than in getting them to understand me.”

I believe that you cannot inspire others unless you’re inspired yourself. Braun is living proof of my theory. Although Braun refined his skills of persuasion over time, his energy and enthusiasm comes from his unshakeable commitment to make a difference and to design the life of his dreams. “Every person has a revolution beating within his or her chest. Regardless of age or status, if you’re not satisfied with the path you’re on, it’s time to rewrite your future. Your life should be a story you are excited to tell.”


Series on Persuasive Speakers: Overcoming stage-fright

Fear of the unknown is very logical. Often however, when we overcome those fears, we can reap rewards that we never could have thought of achieving otherwise.

In addition to being a great novelist, Mark Twain was one of the most popular public speakers of his day. He too however was not someone who was born with this talent. In this address, which followed a musical recital by his daughter in October 1906, Twain recounts his first public appearance–“the first and last time” he experienced stage fright (also known as public speaking anxiety).

“My heart goes out in sympathy to anyone who is making his first appearance before an audience of human beings. By a direct process of memory I go back forty years, less one month–for I’m older than I look. I recall the occasion of my first appearance. San Francisco knew me then only as a reporter, and I was to make my bow to San Francisco as a lecturer. I knew that nothing short of compulsion would get me to the theater. So I bound myself by a hard-and-fast contract so that I could not escape. I got to the theater forty-five minutes before the hour set for the lecture.

It was dark and lonely behind the scenes in that theater, and I peeked through the little peek holes they have in theater curtains and looked into the big auditorium. That was dark and empty, too. By and by it lighted up, and the audience began to arrive.

I had got a number of friends of mine, stalwart men, to sprinkle themselves through the audience armed with big clubs. Every time I said anything they could possibly guess I intended to be funny, they were to pound those clubs on the floor. Then there was a kind lady in a box up there, also a good friend of mine, the wife of the governor. She was to watch me intently, and whenever I glanced toward her she was going to deliver a gubernatorial laugh that would lead the whole audience into applause.

At last I began. I had the manuscript tucked under a United States flag in front of me where I could get at it in case of need. But I managed to get started without it. I walked up and down–I was young in those days and needed the exercise–and talked and talked. Right in the middle of the speech I had placed a gem. I had put in a moving, pathetic part which was to get at the hearts and souls of my hearers. When I delivered it they did just what I hoped and expected. They sat silent and awed. I had touched them. Then I happened to glance up at the box where the Governor’s wife was–you know what happened.

Well, after the first agonizing five minutes, my stage fright left me, never to return. I know if I was going to be hanged I could get up and make a good showing, and I intend to. But I shall never forget my feelings before the agony left me, and I got up here to thank you for her for helping my daughter, by your kindness, to live through her first appearance. And I want to thank you for your appreciation of her singing, which is, by the way, hereditary.”

Under the title “Mark Twain’s First Appearance,” this speech originally appeared in Mark Twain’s Speeches (Harper & Brothers, 1910)