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State Bar of Texas Podcast
State Bar of Texas Annual Meeting 2019: The Science of Speaking With Noah Zandan
Intro: Welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast, your monthly source for conversations and curated content to improve your law practice, with your host, Rocky Dhir.
Laurence Colletti: Hello and welcome to the State Bar of Texas Podcast recorded from the Annual Meeting in Austin, Texas. This is Laurence Colletti, and I’m the host for today’s show, which is being sponsored by LawPay, trusted by more than 35,000 law firms to accept legal payments online. It’s the only payment solution offered as a member benefit by the State Bar of Texas.
Join me now, I have our first guest here at the Conference, Noah Zandan. He is the CEO and Co-founder at Quantified.
Welcome to the show.
Noah Zandan: Thank you for having me. Nice to be here.
Laurence Colletti: Actually, well, before we get into the topic, you presented at the — one of the adaptable lawyers series talks, which is now 10 years old and yours was called the Science of Speaking, but before we get into that, we know where you work, what do you do there?
Noah Zandan: Two ways to answer that question, what does the company do or what does the CEO do?
Laurence Colletti: I am going to ask what the CEO does?
Noah Zandan: All right, a CEO’s job is three things. My job is vision, my job is team, and my job is money. So if the company has a clear vision and everyone’s aligned on that, if I got the best people to execute on that vision and they’re feeling empowered and excited to work on it, and if I can pay them all, then I’m doing my job.
Laurence Colletti: I feel like you effectively communicated that with me.
Noah Zandan: Three things.
Laurence Colletti: So let’s get into it. So the title of your presentation was the Science of Speaking and I loved it because one of my goals this year obviously we work for a media company and I’m always trying to work on things, but my goal last year was to be a better communicator and I wanted to focus on a couple of things, being one more brief and concise, but the other one was to clearly articulate my feelings; and so, like if I feel one way I didn’t want to speak in a way that led people to think that I was mad about something or if I was just not passionate about something.
So I wanted to kind of clean that up, and those are some shortcomings I recognized to myself. So turn it to you, the 50,000 foot just kind of give me the general synopsis of your talk today.
Noah Zandan: Yeah, sure, so I’m a converted Wall Street guy. I started my career at Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, Financial Analysts, a lot of quantitative analysis, and over the years I just kind of got frustrated, like we got all the content right, we did great models, we built amazing spreadsheets and risk analysis, but we left the component of the effectiveness of that presentation. So we would create the perfect pitch deck and we would leave that kind of component of, well, did it work, was it presented well, we left that up to chance.
And so that frustrated me so much that I started a business called Quantified Communications and what we do is we bring science, we bring analytics, we bring kind of the Wall Street mind to helping people become better speakers and we apply that everywhere from Fortune 100 CEOs all the way to university graduate students, really helping them develop their skills for the first time, because they are going into the workplace and they are being taught all these individual contributor skills, but they are not really being taught about how to present that knowledge and how to effectively lead in the way that they communicate.
Laurence Colletti: So, across from my life I’ve had the opportunity to give a lot of presentations and so I was a Business School grad and I did my MBA, so a lot of PowerPoints been up in front of the people and I could relate to the just hours of prep, you wanted to get all that data down, you wanted to be able to speak about it articulately, but really like what you said about preparation versus presenting.
So can you explain the difference and how that gets confused?
Noah Zandan: Yeah, I think a lot of us. When we prepare to speak we think really carefully about, okay, I want to say the right thing. I want to show the right slides. I want to be true to the content of my presentation, but that’s for me, like that’s my risk, that’s my concern, that’s my stress. What the audience cares about is like what does this matter for me. Audiences are selfish and so what we always tell people like the biggest thing that we say is audiences before content.
Like think about what your audience is trying to get, give them a gift, give them something that they can take away and that might not be your content. That might just be you having a good time for 45 minutes on stage, because we’re all selfish, we all want to learn something. We all want to be entertained, we all want to look at time like it’s valuable and sometimes that’s not going to connect to what the speaker thinks they are supposed to say in their piece of content.
Laurence Colletti: So got it. These are juggling acts before you give your quarterly reports?
Noah Zandan: Exactly. Hey, people will remember it, I’m sure.
Laurence Colletti: Yeah, I’m sure, I’m sure. So I learned something new at your presentation. I learned that 80% of our day is spent communicating and I probably should have seen that coming because we do spend a lot of time on social media and sending emails, but I just didn’t realize that for the average person that was such a big part of their day?
Noah Zandan: Yeah, well, especially with all these communication technologies going on, right, like my team, we’re always on slack. People are on email, they are messaging each other, their meeting, like it’s what they do, and I wish we had more time to think and meditate and do other things, but it’s all communication and that’s the fundamental skill of work.
I mean, you are communicating about something and hopefully that part is important to you and you’re good at that too, but the way you relay that information it’s just amazing that we still leave that part pretty much up to chance, but it’s so much of what work is now.
Laurence Colletti: Well, why do you think that is, I mean with something that people do every day, it is such a mediated component for us to do our work, why are we overlooking that?
Noah Zandan: As I looked at it and as I started researching it while I was in graduate school, most of it is because there’s no kind of generally agreed-upon way of what it means to be effective. So, what does it mean to be good at math? Like, we have an understanding of like it’s calculus and trigonometry and geometry and statistics. When it comes to communication there’s communication departments, there’s social science researchers, but they haven’t really taken like a concerned and collective view of what it means to be effective over to the business and professional world.
And so we don’t train it, because we don’t know how, and there’s no way to do it at scale, so really the only way to become a better communicator right now in the market is go hire a coach and you know what the average like a good coach charges for a communication coaching?
Laurence Colletti: I have no idea.
Noah Zandan: $10,000 a day.
Laurence Colletti: Wow, a day?
Noah Zandan: $10,000 a day.
Laurence Colletti: We were talking about LeBron James money there.
Noah Zandan: Well, I’m sure there’s some lawyers that certainly do that and can afford that and do well, but that touches like 1% of the market. So why don’t we teach the stuff, because we can’t, because people can’t afford it, because there’s no great way to teach it and it’s not something you can read about in a book because transferring that into actual experience is — that’s a really hard thing.
Laurence Colletti: That’s a great segue to my next question, because you spent some time pulling together data on what an effective communication style would be and so I liked what you said is that popularly communication is thought of as art, and so obviously hard to define, hard to box in, but you took it upon yourself to come up with some data points to try to scientifically break down what is a good communicator, and so could you share with us some of those data points, some of the things that you were looking for?
Noah Zandan: Sure. So, what we did was we took all of the different behaviors that someone can do when they communicate. What words you use, what you do with your voice, what you do with your face, your gestures, all of these different things, and we said what do audiences actually care about? What will make audiences engage with me? What will make audiences like me? What will make them trust me?
And then we just factor rank them, and we said, okay, well, interesting. If I want to be trusted, one of the biggest things that I can do is take ownership over my message, so I can use more pronouns that demonstrate I, me, my, this is my belief, this is not our belief, and that actually creates a connection that means that someone will trust me.
And so fundamentally if you back that into the really big picture stuff, what audiences want, what they’re looking for nonverbal connection. So actual physical like eye contact, movement, presence, and they are really looking for someone to demonstrate passion and connection to what they are talking about. That’s what people care about. It’s much, much less about the words that you use and more about how you present that stuff.
Laurence Colletti: Well, let’s talk about the path to persuasion and the science behind influence.
Noah Zandan: Sure. So for persuasion what we did is, the study that I presented today was fortune’s greatest leaders. Take the greatest leaders in the world, they’ve all done something to be successful, and you would argue that a lot of them have learned how to be persuasive, and so what do they do, how are they actually persuasive and so we measured them using Aristotle’s old methodology, eat those pathos and logos, and you would think they get the content right.
But interestingly, when you take the greatest leaders versus a regular sample of people, people that want to be leaders, the difference that what the greatest leaders do is they use a lot more emotional language and they use a lot more language that hits people’s intuition and their gut, so they’re not trying to get the content right. They’re trying to make the content feel and they’re trying to bring out emotions from their audiences through their communication.
Laurence Colletti: Who is a good example of that?
Noah Zandan: All these folks are so good at telling stories now. So you take a leader, if you want to look at fortune’s greatest leaders, like one of the guys that we look at a lot is Jamie Dimon, and he is authentic, I mean, he will say things and you’ll your jaw will drop. He really believes that. He is actually going to say that, like Bitcoin is a joke, like he has said that. He has since taken it back but like he’s saying that in a way that like you hear that you smile, you laugh, and you’re like, okay, intuitively like maybe I don’t believe him, the content aside I like Jamie Dimon for saying that.
Like I appreciate that he’s actually being a human and he’s not like so worried about what the lawyers and the general counsel at his firm are going to say that he’s so concerned that that part is perfect, he’s actually just saying like from a human perspective what do I actually believe?
Laurence Colletti: That’s funny. I have recently listened to a podcast where they were talking about some of the political candidates and so they had talked about ones on the left, ones on the right and they were discussing sort of the American fatigue on people that way every remark they’re about to make and the turn towards people they’re just off the cuff, they just tell you how they feel. So that authenticity I think works.
Noah Zandan: It works great. The danger is you have to truly be in touch with your identity. I was talking to a great CEO yesterday asking him kind of what his secret to influence was, and he said he’s just so much self-reflection, he was so in touch with his identity that he could be really spontaneous. He could be in the moment but he would always be confident that what he said and what he did would be truly connected to how he felt. And so he wasn’t so concerned with how other people perceived him, he was like no matter what, no matter how far off the rails I go, it’s going to be in some degree a reflection of myself.
Laurence Colletti: So no, I know that you are a TED Talk speaker because I saw you talk about your TED talk and so I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t ask you to share that story.
Noah Zandan: The story of speaking at TED?
Laurence Colletti: Yes.
Noah Zandan: Yeah. So I actually delivered two TED Talks.
Laurence Colletti: Oh two, I didn’t know that.
Noah Zandan: Yeah, yeah. So, one is a TED-Ed lesson on the language of lying, which is pretty fun, because I algorithmically breakdown what does it mean to be a liar and how can you catch liars and so that one’s done pretty well. It’s a TED-Ed lesson so I’m teaching a bunch of kids about how to spot liars in their classrooms.
And then the second one I did was how visionary leaders communicate, so I took language about what like the top visionaries Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg do.
Laurence Colletti: Did you run on the stage?
Noah Zandan: Yeah, I did. And the story that I told this morning was TED, a lot of people don’t know this, but TED is very, very concerned with the content. They’re very concerned with getting the content right. They have an amazing editorial team but they hold a really heavy hand over their speakers about what you say, and my preparation was a reflection of that. I prepared the content, I memorized the content, word-for-word I got the content right, I don’t think I said a filler the entire time I was on stage, but I wasn’t very human.
I was so concerned and so frankly nervous about getting the content right that I didn’t do justice to the way I feel about the content, and I think the audience caught that.
Laurence Colletti: Okay, and you have got some feedback for that?
Noah Zandan: I did, yeah. You speak in front of 2,000 people at TED and it’s nuts, everybody gives you an applause and you get offstage, like I finished, thank God, and then after you’re there for a few days of the Conference and only one person came up to me and actually gave me a piece of constructive feedback. 2000 people watch me speak, one person comes up to me and he says Noah, congratulations, you gave an average TED talk.
Laurence Colletti: Well, I hope it was a great deal on a curve.
Noah Zandan: And maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I just thought what a funny experience to like spend, I mean, they asked me to speak in August, the event was in February, where I may have spent eight months doing research in preparing for this huge moment and the only thing someone said about, hey good job, here’s how you can get better was that was average.
Laurence Colletti: All right. So, Noah, we’ve talked about several things over the course of our conversation here today. We talked about prep versus presenting, we’ve talked about these secrets of effective communication, what we can learn from data, the path to persuasion, the science behind influence, but we’re at a lawyer’s conference here with the State Bar of Texas, their Annual Meeting, so what I’d like to do is for my last question is to circle that around for advice for lawyers.
Noah Zandan: Sure. So I’m not a lawyer. So I’ll be pretty careful with what I say. I’ll say here’s given my lens and the advice for lawyers is probably two things. One, I will say in our work with CEOs, we do hear a lot of gripes about kind of counsel, and general counsel, the way that they ask leaders to hedge their language.
And so, I would say developing a relationship of trust and developing kind of an understanding of why that has to happen from a lawyer’s perspective, so business leaders truly understand kind of how far they can go versus how much risk is in what they are saying I think is really important. We kind of hear a lot of kickback on that.
Second, we did, and I talked about this morning, we did take a look at some data around how lawyers communicate. We looked at Supreme Court rulings and we looked at legal documents and I think lawyers get a bad rap. I mean Mark Twain famously said like, don’t use a five-dollar word when a 50-cent word will do, and I think that that like most of us assume that that applies to lawyers.
But truthfully when we looked at and we looked at the data like lawyers are good communicators, they’re clear, they’re trustworthy, they’re well-prepared. I think that there’s this kind of camaraderie and this collective energy of doing a good job in being true to the law and serving your clients well by communicating well, that I would say, I was surprised by. I thought that the numbers would be a lot lower.
Laurence Colletti: Well, it looks like we’ve reached the end of our program, but I want to thank our guest Noah Zandan for joining us today. Thank you.
Noah Zandan: I appreciate it. Yeah, thanks for having me.
Laurence Colletti: And if our listeners they have questions or wish to follow up with you, how can they find you?
Noah Zandan: Yeah, so our website is quantified.ai, pretty easy to find, www.quantified.ai, and you can send me an email [email protected] and I will do my best to respond. We get a lot of them but certainly happy to answer questions. Anyone has research ideas or data that they want us to take a look at, that’s what we love to do.
Laurence Colletti: Excellent. Well, that’s all the time we have for this episode of the State Bar of Texas Podcast brought to you by LawPay. Thank you again LawPay.
Also thank you to our listeners for tuning in.
If you like what you heard today, please rate and review us in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or better yet, your favorite Podcasting app. I am Laurence Colletti, until next time, thank you for listening.
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