The Biological Tricks to Make Your Message Stick | Richard Newman


Turning every message into a story leads to better outcomes – better leadership, better results in high stress situations, better sales numbers.

Anyone can do it, and Richard Newman explains exactly how to get started. The author and Founder of Body Talk has helped over 100,000 business leaders from around the world improve their communication skills and their impact.

Richard gives listeners the answers they need to start taking action now and see results fast, including: 

  • How to align body language, tone of voice, and words for maximum effect 

  • The biological tricks that make a message stick with your audience 

  • The worst advice to give someone looking to communicate better 

  • And much, much more

This episode will certainly pay off in business and in life. Listen in! 

Mentioned in this episode:


Richard Newman: If a story is really compelling, it engages the survival mind, the emotional mind and the logical mind. And it does so in that order. And so if you go from a challenge straight to a solution, it’s not storytelling. It’s just telling.

Voiceover: You’re listening to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast with professional speaker, coach and consultant Nicole Greer.

Nicole Greer: Welcome to the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. My name is Nicole Greer they call me the vibrant coach, and I am here with none other than Richard Newman, all the way across the pond from the UK. I’m delighted to have him here today. And Richard is the founder of Body Talk. Got your attention already, don’t we? Over the past 21 years his team has trained over, don’t miss this, 100,000 business leaders around the world. And guess what, you get to be one of those. He’s gonna have 1000 and however many listened to this podcast. And he helps them improve their communication and impact including one client who gained over, don’t miss this, is everybody listening? 1 billion in new business in one year using the strategies that Richard teaches. Welcome to the podcast, Richard Newman, how are you?

Richard: I’m very good. Thank you, Nicole. Thank you for having me here.

Nicole: Yeah, I am absolutely delighted to have you here. So we have the same question that starts out every podcast, I’m collecting definitions, what’s your definition of leadership?

Richard: Well, I guess for me, you know, the area of leadership that I’ve really focused in on over the last couple of decades has been all around communication. And so that’s the area I feel qualified to really talk about. So I think the great leaders really lift the people around them. And that’s how we focus on communication, too. So a great leader is able to lift people from a negative or a neutral state into a positive or a more useful state. And there’s many ways in which you can do that. But if you can do that through the power of communication, then you can get people committed to a united vision, driving forward, understanding it, knowing what part they play within that. And in order to achieve all of those goals, communication is really at the center of how we approach that.

Nicole: Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I think communication is essential. When I work with teams, I bet you know, that that’s, I think, what’s what’s going on around here? And they’re like, well, we need to communicate better. So tell me how, how does a leader begin to communicate better? What do they need to do to get this communication cooking?

Richard: Well, there’s there’s a few things to do to begin with. So I think, first of all, people need to recognize that that communication is a skill. And it’s often called the soft skill, right? And it’s not soft, it’s hard, and it needs work. And the good news is, though, that everybody can get better at it. And this is one of the big messages we’ve shared with people over the years. Some people think, look, I’m not a great communicator, I never have been, therefore I never will be. And what we say to them is, look, it could also be that you are not a great tennis player right now, because you’ve never had any lessons in how to play the game of tennis. 

And so same goes with communication, come in and work with us, we’ll show you how to do forehand, backhand, serve, and volley the basic principles that you need to be better. 

And we can’t promise that everybody will go on to be Serena Williams, or Roger Federer. But you can get to the point where you enjoy the game, you’re good at it, and other people get a kick out of playing that game with you. And so that sense of self awareness, self commitment towards this is absolutely critical. And then the second area that’s been so important that people have talked to us about over the years. I’m sure you’ve heard so many people say this, Nicole, which is, you know, we want to be authentic, you know, we want to make sure that we are authentic leaders, authentic in what we do genuine. And then they tend to approach communication thinking, well, to be authentic as a communicator, I just need to be myself. And we always say to people, that is the worst advice you can give someone just to be themselves when they communicate. 

And the reason being that if we think about what being ourselves means, it means being all of the bad habits that we’ve built up over the years, all the armor that we’ve put on through challenging situations, and just taking all of that stuff into our next meeting. And that’s not necessarily the best idea. So instead, what we talk about with people is getting back to the core of who you are by stripping away those habits, by stripping away the armor that is maybe holding you back, getting back to the core of how you were born to speak, how you’re born to connect with each other, how you’re born to tell stories, and once you do that you can be truly authentic, but it does take committing to the work to get there.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. Okay, so you said you have to have self awareness and then you said another self but I didn’t catch it. What’s the other self? You gotta have self awareness and self?

Richard: Self commitment to the skill.

Nicole: Okay, yeah. All right now born to speak. Tell me about born to speak because that is rolled off the tongue.

Richard: Yeah, so this is this is something that I wrote a couple of years ago. It’s a book called you were born to speak. And the reason the reason I called it that is that we came across so many people for so many years saying, look, I just can’t communicate, I don’t know how to. But actually, if you look at human beings, and this is something that I picked up as a comment made by Yuval Noah Harare, where people have probably come across the book Sapiens. And, you know, what he said is that if you take a look at humans compared to any other species, then we have this extraordinary ability to connect and communicate on grand scales. So if you take a look at any other species, they may be able to connect and communicate in a matter of dozens, or potentially hundreds, but we can do it by millions. We have this fascinating ability to communicate. 

And so no matter who you are, no matter what challenges you have, there is ability to communicate and just to give people that sense of oh, hang on a second, Richard, but but that can’t be me. Let’s just take a look at the challenges that I’ve gone through in my life and where I managed to get to. So when I was when I was born, I was very shy as a young child. I used to be introduced by my parents as here’s Richard our son, he’s very shy, to the point where I thought is shy is that like my middle name, and what is that like a long version of my name, what is that? I’ve also I’ve taken countless studies on introvert versus extrovert, I’m 99% on the scale towards introvert. And that simply means I get my energy by being away from people rather than being with people. 

And lastly, just recently, I was diagnosed high functioning autistic. And what that means, in my case, it there’s so many different versions of what autism might be, and how it shows up for people. But for me, what it means is that most people are neurotypical. And so they they pick up on social cues from each other. And there’s, there’s a flow of information and communication going on. And those are things that I don’t see straight away that that doesn’t come naturally to me, I’ve had to learn that. And I was aware of it in some ways when I was a teenager, and then I just decided I’m gonna read every book on this subject. I read every book you could find on nonverbal communication, tone of voice, presence, storytelling, every single thing I could find, in order to get better at that skill to the point where, as you mentioned earlier, I’ve been really privileged to work with over 100,000 people worldwide, teaching them how to communicate. 

And to the point where I was on stage, once where I did this big piece. It was about three hours long for about 1000 people. And I was running them through this workshop, we had a great time. And somebody at the end came up to me and said, ah, I wish I could do what you do. But I just can’t. And I said to them, no, no, no, you need to understand, this is something I had to start at ground zero on this skill. I had to build it over the years. If I can get there, absolutely, you can get there. So I hope that’s a you know, strong, inspiring message for anybody listening to this, you can absolutely get to where you want to be as a communicator.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that, you know, people, they just have this negative self fulfilling prophecy sometimes around communication. And and I also speak on the stage and people are like I could never do what you do. Do you get that one too?

Richard: Oh, yeah, absolutely. And I sort of liken it a little bit to, you know, when people say, when there’s somebody playing the piano, and they’re just fantastic, like concert pianist, and they’ll make the comment of, ah, you know, I really wish I could play the piano. And I remember that there was a quote, I forget who said it, but there was a pianist who turned around to someone saying, really? Well, if you really want to do this, you just need to play the piano for 60 hours a week for the next 10 years. Like, that’s what I did. Just as if to say like, I wasn’t born playing the piano, this is a skill and everybody can get better at it. So it’s definitely an area that’s worth investing in.

Nicole: Yeah, and I love what you’re talking about, because it’s really lining up with my philosophy on coaching because at the beginning, you said you have to have self awareness and some commitment to improve yourself, right? And and then you said, strip away, you know, don’t be your quote, unquote, authentic selves, strip away the bad habits, put some good good skills and set in place, and those kinds of things. So I’m gonna go back to the part about where you said, you know, it’s not a soft skill, it’s a challenging skill, it’s a hard skill. Tell me what are the skills that we’re talking about exactly inside of communication? You said, you know, tone and that kind of thing. But what do you teach in your book Born to Speak or or in your webinars? Or when you’re working with these these leaders? What is it that you teach exactly?

Richard: Well, there’s a few really popular areas that we talk about. So the first piece if we look at the, the nonverbal side, where we teach things like presence, gravitas, personal impact, often the words that come up. The first piece when we’re talking about stripping away habits and armor, the first principle is about congruency. Congruency. So we talk about making sure your body language, your tone of voice and your words are all going in exactly the same direction. And by doing that, you’re going to be a truly authentic communicator, but most people don’t do that. So I’m sure you’d agree with this, Nicole, that there’s so many people leading meetings or speaking at conferences, where, you know, perhaps the CEO comes up to start the meeting and says, yeah, hi, everyone, I’m really excited to be here. And we’ve got some good news to share with you today. And everyone’s listening to that thinking, are we gonna get fired today, I mean, this doesn’t sound like it’s good news. 

But it’s that sense of them putting on the poker face, or putting on the poker voice, even where they are stripping away all of the emotion. And so we have to get to a place where the tone of voice, the facial expressions, and the words are all going in the same direction. And this is even more important now in the virtual world that we’re spending our time in. You know, for the majority of the time for most people, you’ve got to make sure that you’re using that little rectangle that you exist in on the screen, to make sure that people are visually understanding the message and hearing it as well. If they’re sort of turned away from the screen, or that they’re typing or making notes, they’ve got to hear how you want them to feel in their voice. 

And this is something I give people a reference to where my career in communication started by going up to the foothills of the Himalayas, in northeast India, where I was living in a little Tibetan monastery, teaching English to Tibetan monks. And the really big challenge was that they didn’t speak any English when I got there. So I had to use body language and tone of voice in order to connect with them, and to help them understand me. And so I’ve never forgotten that experience. Because if I was trying to teach them the word excited, and I didn’t look excited, and I didn’t sound excited, they had no idea what I was saying. So whenever I’m delivering a message, I always think, would the monks understand me? Because if so, I know I’m being congruent. So when people are talking about authentic communication, we strip away habits that removes the ability of doing that. 

So they get back to that sense of complete congruency. And so that’s really a key skill straight away. Have congruency focus on how you want people to feel by the end of that meeting, and let everything channel itself towards that. Your body language, your tone of voice, your words, your slides. And then the second major area we talked about where it’s so funny that you mentioned that what do you teach on webinars recently. Two years ago, we’d never done any virtual training as a team. Since that we’ve done well over 3000 events as a team doing virtual sessions. And I think the number one session at the current moment is storytelling. And so we teach leaders a lot about the fact that, you know, you’ve got to make sure that you are an effective storyteller. 

Because if you’ve got a vision, if you’ve got a mission that you’re on for this year, you’ve got new initiatives that are going forward, if you put them in bullet points, or graphs or spreadsheets, that’s nice for people to refer to. But if you really want to win the hearts and minds of hearts and minds of people make them actually want to work with you, rather than resigning and working somewhere else or, or going starting their own business. They’ve got to know what the story is. And you need to know how to tell that in a way that captivates the human brain and moves them forward to action. So that’s a really key area for people right now.

Nicole: Yeah, okay. So let’s not miss this, everybody. So the first principle was congruency. And so I kind of like to repeat back to people because they’re like, what did he say? I’ll tell you. He said, your voice, your tone, your words, and your body language all have to be going in the same direction. And that we have to strip away the things that do not match the words that we’re saying, okay. And I’m going to totally use this moving forward. I’m going to tell your monk story. I’m gonna mention your name, Richard, everywhere I go. And I’m going to say to my leaders, what would the monk understand what I’m saying? 

I think that is a fantastic line. Right? Okay. So you’ve got to pretend that your people don’t even speak English. I mean, you know, even though they might, right. And then the second principle was storytelling. It’s great to put bullet points and all sorts of slides together. But Richard says, You got to engage their hearts and minds. So could you give us some tips or some ideas about storytelling? I think stories are absolutely invaluable. So how, how does the leader get stories, deliver stories? What are your storytelling tips?

Richard: Okay, so two big pieces for people to think about, which is, which is common errors that we see people having where they just fall down. When they think they’re doing good storytelling, and they’re not. So the most common thing that we see leaders doing is that they go into a meeting and they say, hey, look, here’s a challenge. They generally talk about a challenge maybe for them, or for the company, not speaking about a challenge that is relevant to the people who are in the room, but they say, look, the company in general has a challenge. This is where we are. And the next thing they do is they say and here’s the solution. Now, that sounds really logical. But here’s the thing that’s only engaging the logical part of a human brain. 

And what the story does, if a story is really compelling, it engages the survival mind, the emotional mind and the logical mind, and it does so in that order. And so if you go from a challenge, straight to a solution, it’s not storytelling, it’s just telling. We all know it doesn’t work in our personal relationships. So just think for a moment about someone who you care about. Maybe someone that you live with, and imagine they come home from work, and they’ve had a terrible day. And they say, ah, I’ve got major challenges that are going on right now. And you turn to them and say, oh, I’ve got a solution for that. They don’t feel listened to in that moment. 

And I can tell you with 20 years that I’ve been with my wife, that doesn’t work. That’s not what somebody wants from you in that moment. They want you to be there in the moment to really listen to them to understand them and not dive straight into a solution. And the other reason that this doesn’t work, if you think about it is I’m sure that everybody listening has had this moment where you’re in a meeting, a challenge is being discussed, you share the solution. And people say, no, I’m not interested. 

And then 20 minutes later, Bob, on the other side of the meeting, says, hey, I’ve got this idea. And it’s the same idea you just said, and everybody says, Bob, that’s a great idea. Why didn’t anybody say that? Bob, you should get a promotion. And you’re sitting there thinking, what what was wrong when I said it? And here’s the challenge. You said it too soon. Because every problem has 1000 potential solutions. And if you go straight there, actually, people can very quickly dismiss it. So going problem-solution just doesn’t work.

Nicole: Okay, yeah. Now, you said some really cool stuff in there. And so I want to go back. You said, you’ve got to engage the person’s survival mind, emotional mind and logic mind. Will you go a little deeper right there? I think you’re talking about my amygdala, my limbic brain, my prefrontal cortex, all these kinds of fun parts of my brain. So will you go a little deeper on the science because I think when people understand that it’s not just, you know, Richard, talking about his theories. I mean, like, this is science. You got to do, you got to work with the human that’s in front of you that’s an actual living being.

Richard: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, there’s lots of great books around this as well. And we call it the science of storytelling when we’re teaching it because we’re always keen to lean in on what the science tells us here. And so you mentioned the amygdala. So let’s talk about that. So the amygdala is a part of the brain, ancient part of the brain, sits on top of the brainstem, and it’s searching your environment looking out for highly charged emotional events. And when you experience a highly charged emotional event, the amygdala sends a release of dopamine flooding through the brain. And the dopamine helps you to remember things. So as an example, here’s a fun thing. 

If you’re listening to this, just think about it. Is there a song that when it comes on the radio, it reminds you of something that happened in the past. Like it reminds you of someone you fell in love with, or it reminds you of a nice holiday, or it reminds you of being at school, it comes on the radio remind you of that. Now, what happened was that you were experiencing whatever that event was, the song was playing at the time, and the amygdala was having a highly charged emotional event. And when dopamine, dopamine, dopamine, remember this. And so decades later, you hear the song, you remember everything. You can remember what you were wearing, you can remember if it was hot or cold, you can remember who you were with, and what they said and the tone of the voice. 

You can remember so much. And that’s what stories do as well. If stories are effective, they create a highly charged emotional event. And the way that you do this at the start of a story is that you need to deal with pain and pleasure. I’ve seen so many leaders, so many people who are sharing stories, who either just talk about problems, then go to solution. Or they’re the kind of business where they say, look, we don’t talk about problems around here, everything’s an opportunity. Life is good, life is rosy. And that’s nice. And but there’s a reason why when newspapers don’t have every day on the front, everything’s great today, they don’t have that there because the brain goes great, I don’t need to listen. Thank you for telling me and it’s not bad to have good news stories. 

In fact, I love the show that John Krasinski put together called some good news, I tuned into that every week. And that was fantastic. We really needed it at the start of the pandemic. But if you want to make sure that the amygdala sparks off and makes people remember your spreadsheets, your graphs, your initiatives, your ideas, it’s important to give the brain a bit of pain and a bit of pleasure. Just get that sense of okay, there’s a challenge right now. And it’s a challenge that you care about the person that you’re speaking to, there’s a challenge that’s relevant to them. And then you oppose that. You go from pain into pleasure, which is what stories do all the time. 

And they say, okay, here is a potential better version of the future. You don’t explain how you’re going to get there. You don’t call it initiative 2.37. Instead of that, you just describe what that better future may look like in a way that is better for the person who is listening to you. Now go and watch any movie. And you’ll see this happen in the first 20 minutes or less. Sometimes they do it in the first two minutes. And often we give reference to this on the movie Avatar. And we mentioned this, not because it’s necessarily a great movie, but a lot of people have seen it. I think it was number one at the box office last time I checked. And so at the beginning of Avatar, you get this Marine who’s in a wheelchair and his twin brother has just died. 

And we find out that human beings are running out of energy and everyone’s going to die. So there’s a major problem. And then within the first couple of minutes, the promise is made which is hey soldier, how would you like the ability to walk again? How would you like to to help your brother fulfill his mission in this avatar body and save everyone who lives on earth? And suddenly he’s thinking, well, that sounds cool. How do we do that? And at that point, you can give the person the science and the spreadsheets and the graphs, and then all the process that goes with it. Because you’ve lit up the brain. And it’s saying pain, pleasure, I’m interested, I’ll remember everything in a way that you go.

Nicole: All right, that is fantastic. Okay, so we’re going to engage the amygdala, it’s going to be processed by the limbic brain. Do I have that right?

Richard: Yeah. So you want to make sure that the survival brain has kicked in, the emotional brain is engaged as well. So ideally, the beginning part of the story, there’s no deep logical stuff that you really have to understand. It should be driving that sense of emotion and emotions that people really care about. So if you’re a good storyteller in business, you also need to understand the values that people have. The values of the people working with you. And I don’t mean the values of the company, necessarily, which are sort of chipped into marble in the nice office lobby that you may have. You’ve got to figure out for your team, what values do they have? What do they deeply care about? What’s important to them? Is it work life balance? 

Is it a sense of pride, fulfillment, their reputation, what do they care about? And so by talking about anything that you need them to do, or something that is a vision for all of you, from a perspective, where you say, look, I understand what is meaningful to you understand where we are right now where you’d like to be. Then suddenly, the emotions are getting involved, because they know that is core to who I want to be as a human being. And once you’ve done that, the survival is there, the emotions are there, and then you can start to go through into the logic. And just in case, anybody’s listening to this thinking, yeah, that’s fine. Richard, I’m just gonna go in there and show them a spreadsheet. Just to explain why that’s so important. I think you mentioned Nicole, in the introduction, we helped a client in one year win over $1 billion dollars worth of new business. This is a client who they were going for big government contracts. And they were before we worked with them, they were winning about one in four, which they thought was a pretty good hit rate every time they went to pitch about one in four. And they came to us and said, look, we’d really like to increase the number of wins that we get. And so we took them through a two day workshop before each of those big pitches that they did, where we’re focusing heavily on that story, to make sure that they are selling people a better future. That they’re thoroughly engaging the people talking to them. 

And there are other people, other pieces in there that we’re talking about around presence and gravitas, and team dynamics. But the central point is the story that they told to make sure their story was more effective than anybody else’s. And during the course of a year that we worked with them on seven different projects that they were aiming to win, they won every single one. And it was simply from our perspective, that sense of showing them how stories work. Stories compel people to listen and also to take action and give you more chance of getting that decision that you’d really like to get.

Nicole: That’s fantastic. All right. So we’ve got to get storytelling and don’t forget, the first thing we need to do is we’ve got to be the type of person that has congruency. We have our right voice, right tone, right words, same direction, body language, and we’re a great storyteller. What’s another great principle that a leader needs to understand about communication?

Richard: So where do we get to so far? Okay, so let’s, let’s talk about challenging moments. So you know, people have every day they got challenging conversations, they may have conflict that’s happening, they may have serious negotiations. And when those situations come up, again, we tend to find people saying, look, you know, I’ve got a serious moment coming up this member of staff who’s not behaving properly, or this supplier that is really pushing me heavily on my on my margins. So what am I supposed to do in there? Tell tell a story and use body language like there are a month, this is a serious business situation. We’ve coached loads of people around this piece. 

And this is where we talk about lift as a key principle, which is that we we care about the people that we’re working with, that they always feel good about who they are as a human being, they feel proud of the action they’re taking every day. And it is very tempting, when you get into a tough conflict situation. And you know, I’ve been through them, my clients have been through them, tough legal situations you may be in. It’s very easy to sit down that slope of thinking while the other person is being manipulative, so I will be too. Or the other person is using dirty tactics. So I will do too. 

But at the end of the day, all you’re going to have left is you and the memory of knowing who you were in the tough moments of your life. And so what we get people to lean into is the very simple principle of lift, which is before you go into a meeting, you need to lift yourself. You want to bring the best version of yourself to that meeting, which might mean just taking a few moments of quiet time, you might need to meditate, you may need to concentrate on your personal values to make sure that you are living them when you go into this meeting. And then when you go in that meeting, no matter how hard a time you’ve had from that person, your focus is to lift them. To lift them from a negative or a neutral state to a positive or a more useful state. 

And even if they are bringing what you feel is the worst version of them, if you can look inside that person and see the greatest version of them, have empathy and have compassion for the fact that they are on a journey as well as you, they may have deeply opposing decisions that they’re making actions that they’re taking. But they’re doing it from a place of wanting to achieve something in their life. And if you can just see and even sometimes hold up a mirror to the best version of them, then it is much more likely that you get an outcome that you feel proud of, and heads in the direction that you’d like it to. 

Because if all that you see when you go into that meeting is the bad version of them, then guess what. Things are, things are gonna go in the wrong direction, even more so. And so I always encourage people to say, try this everyday. Try it with your family, your friends, your community, your team, just see the greatness inside someone else that they don’t currently see. Remind them of that part of themselves. And, you know, for me, that’s what a great leader would really aim to do.

Nicole: I love that. Okay, so his third principle is to lift and what I think I think you’re saying here that which is so beautiful is is you know, to give people grace, like unmerited favor, right. So, you know, they may have been ugly to me, they may have not done a good job, they may be consistently late. You know, you talked about that, you know, you have employees that don’t have good behaviors. And you got to help them get to that place where they find that to be important, where you can just kind of get all mad, sad, and unglad about the thing, and hold a grudge. And like, okay, so he’s late and you hold grudges, which behavior is better. Neither one of these is very good for the company, right? 

So it’s this idea of, you know, having grace for people, and I think teaching them along the way, you know, and get that person turned around. You know, and there’s nothing more fun, Richard than helping people achieve their goals. When you help that guy get his billion dollars worth of business. You’re like, oh, my God, look what he did. And so, you know, I think that’s important. Now, we’re talking about storytelling. I just had another question about that. So I’m gonna go back to number two on you. Where should people find their stories? 

I often tell leaders, what they need to do is like, I want you to think about when you started working, and then I want you to think about who you met, or what you experienced, that kind of grew you up to where you are today. And I call those little points of light, that that have shown up. Well, when that happened, it changed everything in my career. Okay, there’s a story right there, get that written down, get that figured out. So I love people to go through their history and pull stories out of their history. So either A, I can follow your lead or B not make a mistake, like you made, I think it could go either way. I can still learn. But what are ways or places where leaders can get their stories that they tell?

Richard: Hmm, well, yeah, I think that’s great advice already, Nicole. That idea of the origin story, as it’s sort of called in fictional storytelling, where we like going back to the beginning of a story to understand who is this person, what has built them to be who they are. And you can see this in countless sort of, you know, fictional versions, where, you know, I’m British, so I’ll talk about James Bond, where, you know, Daniel Craig has gone through his five movies, and I think they’ve done a great job with it. And at the first film, they did for the very first time, they did the origin story of Bond. They start off where he isn’t James Bond, and then he becomes James Bond, he gradually builds those pieces. So we feel like we’re attached to that they’ve done it, they do it all the time with Batman, Spider Man. 

They start off as they’re not that and then they become it, and you see who they are in that process. So you build a greater sense of connection with them because of that. Whereas, you know, if you just started a movie where a guy wearing rubber, turns up and says, who’s got the problems, you think, oh, my goodness, like arrest this guy who is this weirdo with like, like, ears. Pointy ears and a cape behind him, he should be arrested. So we actually like hearing that origin story. And so I mean, earlier on, I mentioned the story about the monks, which is just, you know, part of what I did. But early on, when I set up my business, which was just a few years after that, and I was talking to people about this, it really stuck in their mind, they understood who I am as a human being and how I see the world. 

And so that’s useful for me to share as a lens on how I then talk about communication. So origin stories are very powerful. But the big challenge that I like to put to people is to tell them that stories exist in every piece of communication. So you don’t have to look that far. So there are companies we’ve worked on, for example, where they turn every email into a story. And there was a company worked on with this telecommunications company really entrepreneurial, they wanted to get past any red tape and just be super efficient and grow to be the best company in the country at what they were doing. And part of how we coach them to do this is that if you think about it this way, if you go to your email inbox, and you look down the subject headings, it is essentially a mystery list. 

You don’t actually know what’s in the email or what people need you to do. If it just says RE: Project X and you think, okay, well, that could be 1000 things, I have to open it to understand the mystery. Whereas what you can do is that you can have, the first step of the journey is the subject heading. So he coached people to do this. So we talked to them about writing any kind of story starts off with, you know, you’ve got the pain, you’ve got a greater future ahead, there is a journey to be taken. And the action that people take after every meeting, or email is the first step of the journey. And so if you get your, your, your colleagues to write this, your team to write this in the subject heading, where they say, what time do they need you to get things done? And what do they need you to do? What is the very first step they need you to do after reading the email. 

And then suddenly, you go to your email inbox, and it turns into a prioritized to do list and you instantly know which email to read first, what you’re going to need to do. And then inside the email, the story doesn’t have to be very long, but it’s captivating each part of the brain, letting you understand big picture details and actions from pain and pleasure point of view through to the journey that’s logical. And suddenly, you can transform how fast you respond to emails and everybody being on the same journey, understanding the story. So I encourage people to think about storytelling is something to use to to turn every slide deck, every message into something that people understand, care about, and will act upon.

Nicole: All right, fantastic. All right. So I love that turn everything in to a story. Now, I bet you get leaders that say, I just have trouble getting my emails done much less turning them all into a bunch of stories. So tell me about like the return on investment, like if I’m gonna spend a lot of time doing this. You know, I mean, you did share just a minute ago that this other company got, you know, a lot of business. So there’s a huge ROI. But what would you say to the leader who’s a little skeptical. Like every email? All my, what? You know, what would you say to them in terms of what what can they expect to happen in their lives as a leader and a business owner if they really take storytelling to the next level.

Richard: So the way that I put this coming back to, I think I mentioned tennis just a little bit earlier on. So when you first pick up a racket, and you start to hit a ball, it’s hard, actually. And so what you could do as a leader is say, look, I work on storytelling, well, I really need to, but for now, when the balls come at me, I’m just going to pick them up and throw them with my hand. And then one day, when I need to use a racket, then I’ll, I’ll get really good at it for the company conference. But if you hold the racket in your hand, and every ball that comes to you every day, you’re hitting it with the racket, by the time it gets to the end of the first day, you’re already super proficient with it, because you’ve just mastered how to do it. 

And so that’s why we encourage people to do it every single day behind that is don’t hold back on it don’t don’t wait for that when you get to do a TED talk one day, or you get that interview on TV, and then suddenly you decide to be a good storyteller, it’s not going to happen. So instead, you’ve got to work on those skills daily and get your team to do it with you. And we’ve worked with teams where they got to the point where they would reject any email that wasn’t using the storytelling format, so that people would have to get so good at it. And every time anyone shows up to a team meeting, they have to use the storytelling format, which they said made them so efficient, that actually one of these companies, they said, okay, we’ve actually got 45 suppliers working with us, and they’re not doing storytelling, and they give us information to digest. 

Can you go and train all of those companies to give us information through stories, so we don’t have to sort of re digest their information. So once you start doing it, it’s one of those areas that you’ll be completely committed to just like, if you think okay, I’m always going to go into a situation and think can the monks understand me? Would they know how I feel in this situation? The more that you do, it becomes ingrained as a habit. And the more habitual it is, you just don’t need to think about it the next time you go into a team meeting.

Nicole: Oh, that’s fantastic. Yeah. It’s just like, you know, trust me do it. Look at the racket in your hand. I got you. Yeah and plus, you paid me to coach you. Are you coachable? Right. So let’s start storytelling. Okay. All right. I love that. Okay. So we’ve we’ve defined leadership, and we’ve talked about some important skills, most importantly, these communication skills being somebody who’s got all of their body language, everything going in the same direction. We talked about storytelling, and then you talked about turning everything that you do into a story. Where are areas that maybe leaders you know, keep running into a wall, they continue to get challenged, that you’re seeing that your storytelling and your in your ability to communicate, really overcome. What are some challenges leaders are facing today where communication is absolutely the answer?

Richard: So a big area really is objection handling. So you know, many leaders, they go into a meeting and they have strong personalities to deal with, and people with conflicting internal politics to deal with and then they often say to us, look, I hate it when objections come up, it just pulls everything apart. And you know, I try and rush through what I’m doing and sit down so that that doesn’t happen. And we found that once we’ve taught people around body language and tone of voice and storytelling, and then we deal with how they handle objections, the key piece that we’re working on there is empathy, and questions. So what what leaders tend to do is if an objection comes up, a leader tends to think, okay, I’m the hero here, I should know all the answers, and I need to be able to prove what I’m saying is right. 

And so they’ll go ahead and try and give the answer or they’ll use the objection like, a like a nail, they think, okay, this is a nail and I’m a hammer, I need to hammer that nail as fast and as big as I can, in order to get it back into place. But when you do that, people think, okay, well, you’re not interested in anyone’s opinion here. So we don’t feel connected to you or to your mission, or to anything else that you’re saying. So that direct use of force or you know, with people decades ago, a leader might be able to say, this is what you do, from nine to five, everyday, go and get it done. And people may have felt more obliged to do it. But that’s just not the way that things work right now. So when objections come up, we talk the key skill that we work on with people. 

And again, which is coachable. It’s something that you can build as a skill is empathy, importantly, not sympathy. And we’re not saying that you agree with people, it doesn’t mean the next time there’s an objection where you’re in a meeting, let’s say you’re in a meeting and you’re saying it’s green, it is green, it is green, and someone objects and says, no, no, no, it’s blue. You don’t say, ah, yeah, so, so totally right, it is blue. Okay, forget what I was saying. That’s not what it means. But if you fully empathize with them, meaning that you want to see the situation from their perspective, you start to see the world through their eyes, they will so deeply appreciate the fact that you’ve heard them, you have seen their world, you have given them the space to air their views, that you don’t need to agree with them, they will feel appreciated. 

And from there, through asking questions, and through using the power of story, you can start to shift the collective story so that you can move them around to that sense of coming together in an agreement. So you know, we always move people away from anything that is a manipulation strategy back to what we would think of as a human strategy. Really being able to empathize, ask good questions, tell good stories, and then leave them and the rest of the room around to a good resolution.

Nicole: I love that. We don’t try to do manipulation strategies, we tend to try to do human strategies. Everybody write that down. That was beautiful. Yeah. So this, this other thing that people need to learn to do is to empathize. And I love your distinction between empathy and sympathy. And you don’t have to waffle on your opinion, you don’t have to waffle on your decision, you just have to understand where the other person is coming from, and make sure they heard. And they understand that you understand. So I absolutely love that. That’s fantastic. All right. So if you were mentoring a single special listener right now, and that listener thought to themselves, I need to learn to do all this stuff. What would you leave them with? What was their way that they do their next right step? What’s the first step in their journey to use your language?

Richard: Yeah, great question. So I think that the key piece behind this is, firstly, if you really want to get good at this, don’t feel hard on yourself, if you think, okay, there’s other people out there who are amazing at it and I’m not. You’ve got to just start to move forward step by step. And there’s a great story behind this. I recently read Will Smith’s autobiography, which is a fantastic book, if you haven’t read it, go read it. And he talks in there about the journey of building a wall, where his dad said to him, like he tore down a wall in his shop, and he said, you and your brother, you’re going to build this wall. And they thought this is an impossible task. 

And then his dad said to him, don’t think about building a wall, lay one brick, that’s all you got to do. And you lay one brick each day, and eventually you have a wall. And I’d say the same thing is true about communication skills. You want to just choose one thing as small as you can make it. And my simple technique, which could be after today, the overriding principle that the simplest one is for every meeting, you have tomorrow, think how do I want people to feel by the time this meeting ends. And that’s a driving principle that will start to guide your body language, tone of voice, your words, your content, your slides, everything can be led by that one question. And dedicate yourself to it and start to score yourself. 

And notice where it’s, it’s working, and it’s not working. And so by doing that, you’re going to start to build up a skill. And we always say to people, if you’re starting to learn new skills, you may have heard me talk about storytelling in this and thought, okay, I want to try doing that storytelling. Practice it in low stakes environments. So we would never say to people, okay, let’s imagine you’ve got a huge interview or sales pitch or conference that’s coming up tomorrow, you’re not going to instantly go okay, I’m going to transfer my body language, my tone of voice, I’m going to tell stories. I’m going to empathize with everybody. This is going to be fantastic. Don’t put pressure on yourself to instantly do it in high stakes environments. 

You know, to come back to tennis, I have referred to tennis because it’s the only sport I ever got good at when I was child, maybe basketball too. But I remember being in the tennis, the tennis courts carpark where I would just have a line painted on the wall. So you could practice in the carpark while you’re waiting for your parents to pick you up. So I was like 12 years old, and I would hit 100 forehands against the wall, so that when I came to a game, then suddenly, I’m not doing my practice in the game. I’ve already mastered it in low stakes environment. So I thoroughly encourage people to do that, too. Grab a friend, grab a colleague and practice over and over again with them until you get to the point where you think, okay, I feel confident enough to now use this in a high stakes environment.

Nicole: I love that. I love that. All right. Well, we have had a wonderful time today with Richard Newman on the Build a Vibrant Culture podcast. Just imagine if you had amazing storytelling going on. Every email told a story. Everybody knew what the first step in their journey was. Everybody had their words, their body language, and their tone and everything going in the same direction. So it was completely clear where we’re headed. And that we were able to start doing this in low stakes environments and just get things going so that we could earn $1 billion more in business this year. That would be a good 2022. That’s what I know. And so Richard has lots of answers. Don’t miss that he has a book that you can read. So will you share your book, again. Your book that you have, it’s right behind him in the image here, but will you share that with us?

Richard: Yes, so my book, which came out a couple of years ago is You Were Born to Speak. You Were Born to Speak. And also if people want extra resources, they can find them on On our resources page there, there’s videos, there’s loads of articles. So plenty more if you’ve been intrigued by this, go go check them out. And hopefully you’ll find something that will move you forward on the communication path.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. And you can also find Richard at LinkedIn. And so it is Richard Newman Speaks. Richard Newman Speaks. It’d be great if you would call him and invite him to talk to your leadership team. Invite him to speak at your conference. And you can also check them out on let’s see, we’ve got, but it’ll all be in the show notes. So you could just click on it, people. All right, so please check out Richard Newman. Richard, thank you for being on the Build a Vibrant Culture Podcast. I’m delighted that you’ve been here. I’ve learned a lot from you. And I appreciate you downloading all your goodies to my listeners.

Richard: Great. Thanks, Nicole. Thanks, everyone for listening.

Voiceover: Ready to build your vibrant culture? Bring Nicole Greer to speak to your leadership team, conference or organization to help them with her strategies, systems and smarts to increase clarity, accountability, energy and results. Your organization will get lit from within. Email And be sure to check out Nicole’s TEDx talk at

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