Interview with Persuasion Expert, Dr Michelle Mazur

“All communication is persuasion.”

– Aristotle, Greek philosopher

Dr. Michelle Mazur is the Founder of Communication Rebel, a company that specializes in public speaking coaching. Michelle has logged over 10,000 hours of speaking to groups of all sizes, from small public speaking classes of 10 to audiences of over 1,000. She holds a Ph.D. in Communication specializing in persuasion and is a Certified Fascination Advisor. Essentially, Michelle is a master at effective storytelling.

SlideBot Founder, Ned Jamieson had the pleasure of asking Michelle Mazur a few questions about public speaking and the art of persuasion. Included below are some Q&A’s from that conversation.

NED: Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today, Michelle. The first thing that I’m really interested in hearing about is the wealth of knowledge you have in the area of persuasion. You did your PHD in communications, specializing in persuasion, so I’d love to hear a bit about what role persuasion plays in public speaking.

MICHELLE: Thanks for having me, Ned. I think Aristotle put is best when he said “All communication is persuasion.” I feel like persuasion is a duty as a speaker that you have to take very seriously, because the audience is in your hands. You can use persuasion for good and help them accomplish their goals and serve them, or you can use persuasion for manipulation. Obviously, I’m always guiding my speakers to practice persuasion that feels good, that is right, that is natural, and that serves the audience. I use a lot of persuasion theories, and I actually should say, that almost every part of the process that I take my clients through is informed by some theory of persuasion. So, for instance, we do an audience activity to get to know the audience and really figure out what’s going on in their heads so we can best meet them where they are with the message. Why we do that is there’s a theory called social judgement theory that says basically any group of people can be divided into three different audiences.

1. So you have the members of the audience who you can read the phonebook to, and they’ll be nodding their heads and loving every minute of.

2. Then you have your audience who is like, “Meh, I’m open but kind of skeptical.” They’re going to be more critical and questioning of your message. The cool part with that group is that there’s more opportunity to persuade them to come around to your way of thinking.

3. And then there’s the group that we call the rejecters who, if they were stranded in the desert and you gave them water, they would say “No. No thanks, I’m not buying what you’re saying”.

I use that theory to help me understand the audience, so everything that I do when I work with clients is through that lens of persuasion and understanding how people process persuasive messages. I think that makes for a more influential and persuasive presentation on the back end, but I also think that it makes for a better audience experience because there’s so many marketing tactics out there, that are like “Oh, use scarcity, because if the ‘offer’ is not going to expire, people won’t want to buy what you’re selling.” I’m like “Nooooo, don’t do that”. There are better ways to be influential.

NED: Great point. So what would be a couple of easy-picking tips for our readers to increase the persuasiveness of their next presentation?

MICHELLE: I think one thing you should ask yourself about your audience is what do they believe about your message. And not just the good of what they believe about your message, but the bad and the ugly. If they walk in the door having misconceptions, or they feel like your position is a challenging position, you’ve got to face that head on. If you meet them with where your objection is, where they’re most skeptical about your message, in their heads, you have just instantly become more credible, and they’re more open to listening to you because they feel like “Oh wait, this person really does understand my point of view, my perspective on the message.” I think that’s a great way to be more persuasive and get people to come along on this journey that you’re creating for them.

I would also say if you have a call-to-action in your speech, which you should at the end or near the end of your speech, it’s important to keep it to one thing that’s the next natural step, and then finally make it super easy for them to do that one thing. I’ve seen it where speakers go like “Hey, you can connect with me on Twitter, you can opt in for this free thing, or we can free consult together, or you can come by my booth”, there’s like 5 different options. When there are that many options people just say “No thanks, I’m opting out. That’s my option. I’m saying no.” Just that one action that’s the natural next step is going to improve your conversion rate of your presentation, and you should focus on that.

NED: And that’s really what it comes to isn’t it. The parallels between that and direct sales are infinite.

MICHELLE: Yes, yes for sure. I always feel like I’m the only public speaking consultant who actually talks about conversion rate, and why you need to be tracking that in your speech. Every time I do that my clients are like “Are you serious?” And I’m like “No, I want to know how many people in the audience took you up on your offer, because that’s the only way we can improve your speech.”

NED: Yeah, that’s really interesting. Now the next question is on something that is really important to us here at SlideBot; and that’s storytelling. Would you mind telling the readers what storytelling means to you and maybe how you go about creating engaging stories.

MICHELLE: I have a very contrary and interesting perspective on storytelling. I feel like we talk about storytelling so much in speaking and in marketing, and in every aspect of our lives. Like “Oh, people care about your story”The truth is that the reports of how much people care about your story have been greatly exaggerated. They care about your story only when it relates to them. I’ve seen this with speakers. I went to a presentation about 6 months ago, it was supposed to be on business development, and the speaker spent the first 10 minutes literally telling us her life story. I’m sitting there and I’m listening, and I’m like “Why am I listening to this?” and the woman next to me goes “Why is she telling us this? I thought we were talking about business development?” If you want to create a story that does engage your audience, you have to realize that even though it’s your story, it’s not about you. Its about finding what I call the turnaround, which is how do you take the lesson of your story, the universal in your story and bring it back to your audience’s experience where they can learn something. Because when you do that, and you it multiple times as you tell your story, like “Hey, maybe you are in a situation like this”, especially if we’re talking about “Oh I was in the grocery story the other day.” Well who hasn’t been in that situation? If you can turn it around and bring it back to the audience’s experience, they’re going to be more engaged with your story because they’ll see themselves in it and they wont be wondering “Why are you telling this to me? I don’t understand” Storytelling for the sake of “I’m going to make a connection” falls flat, but if you can find that turnaround, that universal, that moral to the story that you would find in fairytale or a fable, then that’s what makes a story incredibly engaging and persuasive.

NED: Yeah. That’s a great answer. You’ve logged over 10,000 hours, which is just amazing in front of audiences. What do you think is the major barrier that you come across that prevents people from being the best speakers they can be?

MICHELLE: I think it’s them. I feel this way about myself. I feel like, oftentimes I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to speaking or getting more visibility or getting my message out there. We get into our heads a lot, when dealing with the fear of public speaking. Here’s another one of my contrary points of view. I really don’t believe in the fear of public speaking, I feel that anxiety that we experience before we get on stage is the most normal thing in the entire world. But we blow it up into this like “Oh you’re afraid of public speaking. Its worst than death.” That gets in the way of us truly communicating and connecting with our audiences. Or, if you are an expert – you know the curse of being an expert and giving far too much information to the audience to the point that they are “Why are we listening to this? How is this useful? I feel so overwhelmed”Well, once again, your expertise is getting in the way with connection, and understanding with your audienceSo I feel like we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to being a better speaker. I know that the speakers who really excel, they hire people that help them do that because getting better at speaking is about getting out there and speaking, so it’s all about the stage time. But also, it’s about getting feedback that’s actionable. You can’t really get that feedback from audiences because they’re not there to help you become a better speaker. They’re there to get something message, to receive value, to receive some kind of transformation. So, really, for speakers to get out of their own way, it’s about finding support for becoming better and getting over those barriers.

NED: Yeah, great. And finally, if you had to pick one personal presentation that demonstrates the characteristics of some of the things you’ve been talking about, of the great speaker or a the great talk, who would it be or what was that?

MICHELLE: I would have to say one of the talks that biggest impact on me from both –  it moved be and also it was such a well talk, would be Amanda Palmer’s TED talk about the Art of Asking. The things that I loved about this is that yes, it is her story. She is telling but it is so very relevant to the audience because asking is something we find…. Okay I’ll speak for myself. Asking is something that I find very difficult to do. And I know how necessary it is to build my business, but what I also loved about what she did was she created an amazing experience. She walks out on stage with a milk crate and a piece of gauzy fabric and a flower, and she stands on it, and she stands like a statue for the first 10 seconds, and then she talks about that’s how she made her living. And right there you’re transported into it, because you’re like “ Oh gosh, she’s a human statue. I’ve seen those people!” it was just a phenomenal TED talk with a great message that connected with me and made me feel something.

NED: Yeah, great. So how do people get in touch with you?

MICHELLE: You can get in touch with me at drmichellemazur.com, that’s where my blog lives. I also have a great tool for speakers that absolutely free. Its called Your Unfair Speaking Advantage, and it is a way to position your speech and expertise so that it stands out and makes you unique, because I think that’s one of the struggles speakers face, like “How do I take my knowledge and ideas and stories, and package it in a way that makes me different from other people out there?” It’s a totally free tool; you can just download it at drmichellemazur.com/advantage.

NED: Fantastic. Well thank you so much for joining us today, Michelle. I’m sure our readers will take a lot away from this interview.

MICHELLE: Thanks so much for having me.

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