Reframe & Reset Your Career Podcast

Episode 62. Think Faster, Talk Smarter: Communication Strategies To Boost Your Job Search & Career – Matt Abrahams

Looking for communication strategies to boost your job search and career? Matt Abrahams, the host of the award-winning podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart, shared his insights about this, his new book Think Faster, Talk Smarter and much more on Episode 62 of the Reframe & Reset Your Career podcast.

In this episode, we will learn about:

How fear can inhibit communication,

How small talk can help build connections and grow your network,

Communication strategies to help you in a job interview,

Ways of making difficult conversations at work easier,

Matt’s 6 step communication model,

Managing anxiety when communicating in high pressure situations by dealing with the symptoms and sources,

Ways of successfully navigating the Q&A format,

How to use silence and pauses in communication,

Communication strategies to help you stand out at work, and

Understanding the needs of your audience to tailor your content appropriately.


The edited transcript of the interview is at the end. It has been edited for clarity and ease of reading. I hope you find it helpful.


Matt Abrahams is a leading expert in communication with decades of experience as an educator, author, podcast host, and coach. As a Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he teaches popular classes in strategic communication and effective virtual presenting. He received Stanford GSB’s Alumni Teaching Award in recognition of his teaching students around the world. When he isn’t teaching, Matt is a sought-after keynote speaker and communication consultant. He has helped countless presenters improve and hone their communication, including some who have delivered IPO road shows as well as TED, World Economic Forum, and Nobel Prize presentations.

His online talks garner millions of views and he hosts the popular, award-winning podcast Think Fast, Talk Smart: The Podcast. He is the author of Think Faster, Talk Smarter: How to Speak Successfully When You’re Put on the Spot. His previous book Speaking Up without Freaking Out: 50 Techniques for Confident and Compelling Presenting has helped thousands of people manage speaking anxiety and present more confidently and authentically.

Matt talked with me talked about the importance of being able to communicate your story to the interviewer so it is easy for them to share this with the ultimate decision maker. He told me “”When you are interviewing, you are equipping your interviewer to tell your story to someone else. Most of the time, the person we interview with is not the person empowered to hire you on the spot. They have to get approval, they have to get a consensus so they need to discuss you with somebody else. So the better you equip them by having clear themes and having support and evidence that they can bring that helps.” 


People & Resources Mentioned

Improv Wisdom – Patricia Ryan Madson

Dr Carol Dweck – Mindset

Dr Robert Cialdini – Influence


Contact Matt





Reframe & Reset Your Career Resources & Contact Info

YouTube Channel: 

LinkedIn Page:

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Thank you for your continued support of Reframe & Reset Your Career, I do appreciate it. The next episode is out on Weds 25th October with Kimberly Godbolt, MD of Talented People, a specialist TV staffing & Executive Search company, with 15 years of experience in TV programme making.

It would be great to hear from you, the listeners, and your thoughts about the podcast, YouTube channel or anything else, it’s always a pleasure to hear your views. I have had some great reviews but not had any way of responding. 


Edited Interview Transcript

Harsha: [00:00:00] Welcome to episode 62 of the Reframe & Reset Your Career podcast. Our guest today is Matt Abrahams. Before we begin, I want to thank all the supporters of the podcast. Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. Do subscribe, like and share. It does make such a difference. Please note that in this episode, we touch on mental health and wellness topics purely in general terms.

If you have specific issues or concerns, please contact a suitable professional. Now back to the show. Matt is a leading expert in communication with decades of experience as an educator, author, podcast host, and coach. As a lecturer in organizational behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, he teaches popular classes in strategic communication and effective virtual presenting.

And he hosts a popular award winning podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart, the podcast. He’s the author of Think Faster, Talk Smarter, and his previous book, Speaking Up Without Freaking [00:01:00] Out, has helped thousands of people manage speaking anxiety and present more confidently and authentically. Welcome Matt. 

Matt: Thank you so much, Harsha.

I am excited to be with you and to have a good conversation.

Harsha: Thanks so much for taking the time today, Matt. Is there a performance, song, book or film which you’d like to share, Matt?

Matt: Oh, so, wow, the answer is absolutely yes to all of them. So my, my favorite book, you know, putting aside the ones I’ve written, which I’m very passionate about I love the book it’s called Improv Wisdom by Patricia Ryan Madsen.

It is, it’s a nonfiction book. It’s a book to help you be a better person by using and leveraging improvisation. There’s a great movie that I love because it’s all about communication. It’s called “Thank you for smoking”, it’s an older movie, but it has so much to say about persuasion and influence and that can be really impactful in terms of a performer Unfortunately, he’s deceased [00:02:00] but I am a huge fan of Robin Williams, my new book is about speaking in the moment, and he was amazing at being able to come up with things quickly and, and be able to, to just get things done immediately.

Harsha: That’s a great list. I was just expecting one!

Matt: Well, you, asked me four or five things. I’ll give you three or four answers. How, how’s that?

Harsha: So Matt, back to the beginning. You studied psychology at Stanford. Was there a strategy behind that or did you just like the subject?

Matt: That’s a great question.

My whole academic career was me stumbling into what I was passionate about. So I was an undergrad at Stanford. I started thinking I wanted to be a doctor and then I met chemistry and calculus and they had a different idea. And at Stanford, they had a way that you could do some of the pre med requirements.

But not do the main track and it was called human biology and it was a combination of social science and biological science and the very first day of class, they brought out a [00:03:00] psychologist and he started lecturing and I fell in love. I fell in love with the subject. I didn’t know that psychology as a social science existed.

I thought it was only for people who wanted to be clinicians. Very important, I’m glad that people do that but it just opened up my eyes. So I immediately literally after that class changed my major to psychology. And then in psychology, I came to study communication. And I realized that communication was a field because at Stanford, they only do mass communication like journalism, television and things like that.

And what I’m interested in really is interpersonal. So my entire academic career was just stumbling on to things that I became passionate about and studied.

Harsha: It’s interesting, sometimes you’re looking at serendipity or things to go in a particular way. And a lot of us sometimes stumble upon the things that we love, love doing. Don’t we?

Matt: Absolutely. And in fact, I encourage the students I teach my own kids, anybody I talk to, to one, be open, locking yourself into a way of [00:04:00] thinking is it can be. Challenging and detrimental in certain ways. And I tell everybody, take opportunities, when they come, if I have had any success in my career, it’s because I’ve been willing to say yes to opportunities.

Doesn’t mean I go all along the way, but if somebody says, Hey, do you want to learn more about this? I say, yes. The whole podcast I do, which has done fairly well and I, thoroughly loved doing it.  Somebody coming to me and said, “Hey, what do you know about podcasting? Do you want it? You want to try to explore it?”

And I said, sure, let’s do it. And, and it turned into the, be just a wonderful gift to me personally. So I think staying open to opportunity, not locking yourself into one way of seeing your career or your life unfold is really important.

Harsha: That’s a really interesting point you bring up, Matt, because I think life is, there are full of opportunities out there.

You need to be open to them because sometimes I think people almost go around thinking I’m not getting the breaks, I’m not getting the opportunities, but actually if you open yourself up to new [00:05:00] opportunities, they are actually always there to some extent. Sometimes you’re actually getting in your own way, aren’t you?

Matt: Absolutely. And, and I talk a lot about getting in your own way. In the new book I wrote, it’s all about speaking in the moment, speaking spontaneously. And one of the things that gets in the way of us being able to answer questions well, or give feedback on the spot is the fact that we get in our own way.

And we often do that. And so we have to take the time to recognize it and see what happens if, if we maybe don’t say no. Thank you. And just say maybe, or not yet that, that can further us in our career and personal aspirations.

Harsha: I just love that. And I think sometimes just give it a go. It might work, it might not, but what have you lost from taking half an hour to speak to somebody or half a day to try something out, go to a lecture?

Yeah, I definitely agree with that, that viewpoint. Now going on to communication, like you, I think it’s such a massively important thing for your career, but [00:06:00] also for your personal life, because it helps you to stand out and you can build these powerful relationships. And actually, sometimes you meet these amazing people, but because they can’t communicate what they stand for their values or their work, they just don’t go ahead in life as maybe other people who are much more sharp elbowed and are very good at talking.

So where did your interest in communication come from? Was it thinking about how communication and psychology fit together? I think that there’s a lot of interrelated things going on there.

Matt: Absolutely. Some people argue that. The study of communication is just one version of applied psychology.

And people say the opposite that, that, you know, communication is the vehicle through which we express our psychology. So they’re very related. I can trace my interest in communication back to when I was a very young boy two stories come to mind. I’ll share very quickly. Both happened when I was between the ages of probably six and nine.

The first was where I grew up, in a [00:07:00] suburb, there would be lots of yard sales or garage sales where people would take things that they no longer wanted and, and sell them for, for cheap to people. And there was one weekend in particular where my mother had just been frustrated with my brother and me.

And she said, we are having a garage sale. She wanted to get rid of all of our stuff. And, and so. She instructed my brother and me to write signs announcing our garage sale, but she said, spell it incorrectly. And if you insert a B right in the middle of garage, you get garbage. So while all of our neighbors were having “garage” sales, we were having a “garbage” sale and we did phenomenally well, we sold more stuff than anybody else in the neighborhood.

And my mother to this day still believes it’s as a result of the fact that our sign made us stand out from the rest. I think people felt we were stupid and thought they’d get better deals. It does not matter. What it taught me as a young person was that language, words, communication can influence behavior.

And [00:08:00] not too long after this, my father, who this was back in the day when people would actually read newspapers on actual paper. And my father was chuckling behind the newspaper. I said, what’s so funny, dad. And he said, come here. And he was reading the comic strips. And there was a comic strip of a father who had his arm around his son, looking at the store that the father.

And across the store, it said going out of business sale and the caption of the comic that was making my father laugh so hard said, someday, son, this will all be yours. And I was befuddled. I was like, I don’t understand. And my dad explained to me that going out of business sign was a trick. It was a way of marketing.

Because people thought they’d get good deals because it was going out of business again, reinforcing this idea that through communication, through language, through words, we could motivate people. So my interest in communication has been long lasting. I just didn’t know you could actually study it. And it wasn’t until I got to college and grad school that I really understood [00:09:00] that you can do rigorous academic research in the field.

Harsha: I just love those stories and actually talking about communication, I think fear is something that really inhibits a lot of people, you know, there’s this fear of public speaking, fear of communication, fear of doing the wrong thing or saying the wrong thing. And sometimes I think you’re almost attached to the negative result. And that really stops you from doing things.

Matt: Absolutely. You know, our perceptions of what’s possible get in our way. And so we need to reflect and think about what it is we can and can’t do to really help. And so our mindset matters a lot. In fact, in the new book, I spend four of the six first chapters talking about mindset and how we can adjust our mindset to be more successful.

Harsha: I just love that. What would be helpful before we go into your book? I think for our listeners, essentially they’re either looking for work or trying to develop in their career. So I’d like to [00:10:00] go through a few scenarios, where you can talk about your thoughts. Say, if you’re attending a networking event and you know, it’s the usual small talk and you’re trying to build connections.

I think sometimes the problem is that people put almost too much pressure on themselves. What are your thoughts on those networking events and making small talk?

Matt: Yeah. So I think small talk gets a really bad rap. I think we need to rebrand small talk. I think small talk is, is fantastic.

I keep referring to my book and I don’t mean to do that, but I have a whole chapter on small talk because when it comes to spontaneous speaking, it’s a big challenge for a lot of people. Here’s the value of small talk. It allows you to connect. to learn, to practice things, to find out avenues of exploration that you might not have known.

We often look at it as a necessary evil but if we embrace it and say, Hey, there’s good things that can happen here, it can really change our perspective. It comes back. To what we talked about a little earlier about looking [00:11:00] for opportunities. I think small talk and many spontaneous communication situations are opportunities for us to grow to learn to expand.

And we have to we have to embrace it that way. That said, there are some specific things we can do to make it easier for ourselves and for the others we talk to. But networking is critical. In life, but also in career management. I look at my career, you know, before I was an academic, I worked in high tech for for 10 years.

And most of my jobs. In fact, I would say every single one of my jobs came through a connection. I had either at the place I ended up working or through somebody who knew me and knew the other place. So the only way I knew those people was through connecting.

Harsha: And I love that point that Robert Cialdini makes, the author of Influence, that you’re always looking for commonalities when you’re meeting a new person.

“Did you go to the same college? Do you live in a particular place? Are you interested in a particular sport?” I think if you can make these very [00:12:00] trivial connections, it shows that we’re part of the same tribe, we’re in the same gang, human beings are very tribal, unfortunately.

But then you can go on to the more in depth conversations about work and, motivation and can we work together?

Matt: Yeah. So I love that you’re, you’re quoting Cialdini. He, he is somebody that I met very early in my academic career. He came in guest lectured in a class I was in, and I was truly enamored with the work he did, how he did his work.

And recently I’ve gotten to know him a bit by hosting him on my podcast. And he talks a lot about this notion of unity, feeling united, connected with people. And it’s important. The, the thing I would advise against is just going in and trying to go through your list, like almost playing bingo, you know, do you like this?

Do you like that? Do you like that? I think there are more subtle ways and a great way to do it is to share what’s important to you and see how the other person responds. So you’re right. Finding connection is important [00:13:00] and finding similarity is important, but you just don’t want to go in like you’re a detective grilling people until you get what you’re looking for.

Harsha: Completely. I think, obviously be sensible, be authentic. And yeah, don’t try and be a detective. But I’m sure most of our listeners are hopefully sensible enough to do that. But actually, so moving on from that now, say you were in the interview scenario and I love that video you had on your YouTube channel.

I actually put it on my Reframe & Reset Your Career LinkedIn page. Can you give our listeners who haven’t seen the video some thoughts about the interview scenario?

Matt: I have a lot to say about interviewing and thank you for sharing that video. So to me, there’s a lot you should do in advance of interviewing and interviewing is spontaneous, but you can certainly prepare.

And that’s the big counterintuitive idea about spontaneous speaking is you can actually prepare for it. So here my advice and I do a lot of coaching of people on interviewing skills. I teach in an MBA program at [00:14:00] Stanford where a lot of our students go on to interview and I coach others.

So first and foremost, you need to do a deep dive into the company itself. What is important to them? You should understand their mission, vision, and values. You should understand the scope and the variety of things that they do. You should also look into the leaders of the company, what’s important to them.

A lot of this is done through “cyber stalking”. Check out their LinkedIn profiles, their company bios, all of that. Then also think about what are the key themes you want to articulate about yourself. Maybe you are a very committed, dedicated employee. Maybe you have certain set of skills around programming or finance that you want to make sure you communicate.

And with each of those themes, and you should have three specific examples that you can give that demonstrate those themes. And to my mind, there are three types of examples you should have. First is stories you can tell. So I can say, “Hey, I’m really good at program management”. Well, tell a story about the time you brought a program to market and what that [00:15:00] was like.

Use data as well, data is important. “I saved the company 25 percent of their effort, or I made things twice as fast in the implementation.” Numbers can help. And then finally, if you can use testimonials from other people. So, my boss gave me this award, or some external person said that this was the best time they’ve ever gone through this process.

So you understand the company, you understand your themes and you have support because the ultimate goal in an interview, the goal is assembly of ideas rather than creation of ideas. So when somebody asks you a question, you go, Oh, that links to this theme. And here’s this example that I can bring to you.

The bottom line is this, when you are interviewing, you are equipping your interviewer to tell your story to someone else. Most of the time, the person we interview with is not the person empowered to hire you on the [00:16:00] spot. They have to get approval. They have to get a consensus. So they need to discuss you with somebody else.

So the better you equip them by having clear themes and having support and evidence that they can bring that helps.

Harsha: I love the way you frame that, Matt, because actually the guy or the lady you are interviewing with, they need evidence from you so that they can go and say, Matt or Harsha, they’re great candidates because of X, Y, and Z.

And when they’re putting you up against the other candidates that have come along, it’s like when you’re getting promoted at work all the managers are getting together and they have their favorite candidates. And not, not everybody can get promoted, so they clearly need to have enough evidence from you.

Like, as you’re saying, I’ve generated this amount of sales, people in other departments or clients have said how wonderful Matt and Harsha are, and it’s always about that third party evidence, that almost social proof. Now, after we’ve done this podcast, I can say [00:17:00] I’ve had Matt Abrahams on my podcast.

Matt: And I’ll go one step further and say you’re an amazing podcast host and you’ve got lots of value to bring. So there you go. A testimonial. I’m not sure. I’m not sure I carry much weight, but there you go!

Harsha: Yeah. And, and, and actually one interesting thing that I’ve heard Cialdini say was that almost before you get into the interview, he says, actually ask the interviewer. “What is it about me that you liked from my CV to invite me for the interview?” So you’re almost getting the interviewer to sing your praises and then you’re sort of flipping around the psychology.

Matt: I love that. I think that’s a great first question. May I share my last question? It really has helped me whenever I am done interviewing and it’s been a long, long time since I’ve done this, but I coach lots of people who tell me this still works.

At the end of interviews, the interviewer will often say, do you have any questions for me? And I think it’s very important to have a meaningful question there. I think the people who say, no, I think I got it. I think you miss an [00:18:00] opportunity. My question is always this. So imagine Harsha, you asked me the question, you say, do you have any questions for me?

I would say, what do you wish you would have asked when you were in my position interviewing for your job? And I, let me tell you that unlocks so much detail about the company, about the person people say, Oh, I really wish I would have asked about X or, you know, I really wish I would have known this. And sometimes it’s scary information.

It’s like, really? That goes on here. And other times it’s just a wonderfully amazing information that just makes you more excited. So I have found that question to be really powerful for me when I end interviews and others have told me it does the same for them.

Harsha: Thanks for sharing that with us, Matt. I think difficult conversations at work or in your personal life, they’re obviously not, not easy to have.

Now, if, if you have to have a discussion, say with your boss, you’re trying to get promoted, but you’re trying to figure out what it is that you need [00:19:00] to do, or say you’re a manager and you’re having a chat with a coworker who’s not doing well now, are there any general themes that people can use for having these difficult conversations?

Because I think a lot of times people think, “Oh, it’s just too difficult. I’ll kick the can down the road”, but actually I’m more thinking, it’s much better to try and deal with it, it’s never going to get any better. So it’s almost better to have that sooner rather than later.

Matt: So timeliness to feedback or timeliness to to critical crucial conversations is really important. Now, there’s some factors to consider. So you don’t want to make things worse. You know, so you’re in a meeting and somebody who constantly interrupts interrupts. It might not be in your best interest in that moment to give the feedback there. Because of what else is being done, but you might want to say, Hey, I just want to schedule some time right after this to, to have [00:20:00] a conversation.

So you put a pin in it. So that person who was interrupting recognizes, “Oh, I better, stay vigilant to what’s going on here”. When you are giving these difficult messages, when you are in a situation where you have to give critical feedback or, or something of the sort, several things I think play out one, you first have to be very clear on what your goal is.

So I have a dear friend I’ve known him for, for decades. Great guy, super smart. He is really big. He is six, eight, six feet, eight inches tall. He has a really deep voice and he’s incredibly intelligent. His boss once told him as a form of critical feedback, he said, stop being intimidating. That’s useless feedback, right?

What do you do with that? I mean, he can’t, he can’t shrink. He can’t change his voice. He’s smart. They wanted to keep him at the company. That’s not good feedback. What the issue really was. And my friend and I talked a lot [00:21:00] about what the issue really was, is that others in meetings were not contributing as much because.

This guy had such a great presence and he was so smart. What he contributed was really valuable. So better feedback would have been,” I’d like for you to continue contributing to meetings, but let others speak first and paraphrase what they’ve said before you speak.” That is incredibly actionable advice that achieves the goal of inviting others to share instead of not sharing when this guy’s in the room.

So you have to know what is it you’re after and what is it you want to see. Don’t just give generic feedback. Second, you need to think about what might be leading to the behavior or not leading to the behavior that you want to see. I tell this story, I have two children and when they were much younger, I was in my office working and I hear this loud crash coming from the kitchen.

So I run out to see what’s happening. There’s my older son having reached above his head to grab a plate that had clearly fallen on the ground and shattered. Being a [00:22:00] good parent. I noticed there’s no blood. “What do I do? I start yelling at him. What are you doing on the counter? Why are you doing that?”

It’s dangerous. He starts crying and through his tears, he said he was trying to get the plate down for his younger brother. So they didn’t have to interrupt me because they knew I was busy doing work. Well, how do you think I felt? I mean, here they are trying to help me. And here I am yelling at him.

Should he have been on the counter? No, he needed feedback, but not the way I gave it to him. Understanding what motivated the behavior might change the way you hold that critical conversation, so we have to think about those things in advance. And then finally, when we go into giving the feedback, and I hope we can talk about this in a little bit, you should structure your response.

Listing things, itemizing things are, is not useful to people. To me, these crucial conversations are actually invitations to problem solve. You’re inviting the other to collaborate with you to fix the problem. So you need to frame it in a way, use a structure to help make that invitation without the person getting defensive.

That was a [00:23:00] long winded answer, but there’s so much you can do to make these critical, crucial, critical feedback situations better.

Harsha: Moving on to your new book. I’ve enjoyed reading it. So can you tell us a little bit about it? And what, what are the sort of key takeaways that people should take?

Matt: So I could say a lot about that. So the book “ Think Faster, Talk Smarter”, which is a derivative of the name of my podcast, Think Fast, Talk Smart, is all about how to speak better in the moment. Most of our communication personally and professionally is spontaneous. We’ve already talked about a few of those situations: answering questions, giving feedback, making small talk, introducing yourselves, giving a tribute, making apologies.

These are all situations where you have to speak in the moment. And most of us, if we’ve had any training in communication, it is always around planned or prepared presenting. It’s a presentation, it’s a pitch, it’s a meeting that has an agenda. These are things that if we’ve learned, we’ve [00:24:00] learned that modality, but not the spontaneous speaking.

So the book’s purpose is to help people feel better about their spontaneous communication and, and really to do it. Well, three things have to be true. One, you have to adjust your mindset to, you have to work on your messaging and three, you have to practice and prepare for very specific situations. So the book is actually designed for that.

It is, it is a very practical applied book. I have sections where I say, try this, or once you’re done reading, practice drill this because communication is not something you just read about and then do well, you actually have to. Put it into practice, just like nobody becomes a great athlete just by reading about it.

You have to do it. So that’s the overarching purpose of the book and the overarching structure of the book.

Harsha: You’ve got this model for going through communication. Is that a six step process or something? Do you just want to talk about that, Matt?

Matt: I’m certainly happy to talk about that. So there’s six steps. They divide into two major categories, mindset and messaging. So in terms of mindset, [00:25:00] we have to start first by addressing anxiety. Most people get nervous speaking, be it planned or spontaneous. And there are things we can do to reduce our anxiety. Second, we have to reduce the pressure we put on ourselves to be right, to be perfect.

Many of the people who listen are listening to this, who are interviewing, we put so much pressure to give the right interview answer. I am here to tell you as somebody who’s studied communication for decades, there is no right way to communicate. There’s certainly better ways and worse ways, but there’s no one right way.

And by striving to be right, we actually make it more likely that we won’t be that effective. The third, so we’ve got anxiety, reducing that perfection and pressure we put on ourselves. The third is to see these spontaneous situations as opportunities, as connection points, not as threats and challenges.

Most people do not go into job interviews thinking, hey, this is a great opportunity for me to connect and learn. We go in saying, I have to perform, I have to defend my position, I have to show that I’m smart. [00:26:00] And when we have that mindset of challenge and defensiveness, It limits what we can do. So we have to reframe these as opportunities.

And then the fourth and final part of mindset is listening. We don’t listen very well. We listen just enough to get the gist of what somebody is saying, and then we move on beyond that. So we need to listen better so we can better understand how to respond in the moment. Then we move to messaging. And then only two steps in messaging.

One is structure, how you organize your content. We don’t just list things. And then the final step, I call it the F word of communication. And that’s not the naughty one. It’s focus. Many of us ramble on and on and on. When we’re speaking spontaneously, we need to be concise. We need to be clear and we need to be memorable.

So those are the six steps. Each step comes with advice and guidance and through some practice and work, everyone. Introvert, extrovert, experienced speaker, [00:27:00] novice speaker, everybody can get better at their spontaneous speaking.

Harsha: There are so many sort of good points that you brought up there, Matt.

I mean, with the mindset, I completely agree there, if you go into it thinking this is not a threatening situation, this is an opportunity for me to get my values across for me to get my knowledge across for me to build connections with these people. That’s a very powerful way of looking at it.

And actually just talking about mindset, you would have come across obviously Dr. Carol Dweck.

Matt: We’ve never met in person. We’ve talked over email. We are working on having her be a guest on my podcast. I think her work on mindset is really, really important. And in fact, in the book, I talk about some of the aspects.

One of the things that I find really empowering in her work is this notion of not yet. So somebody with a growth mindset sees that they can learn and evolve and grow in their abilities. Recognizing that I don’t have that ability [00:28:00] currently, but I have the potential to have that skill or that ability is so powerful.

And she calls it the not yet approach. So it’s not that I can never have it. It’s that I just don’t have it currently, not yet. And I think that is so powerful in so many areas of our lives, but especially in our spontaneous speaking.

Harsha: And I think in life where people look at almost things in a very binary sort of way, success or failure, I think that’s such a good lesson because actually, you know, say with communication, the more you do it, the better you become.

My first podcast episode, it was okay but now I’ve done 60 plus, you naturally get better because you do it more and more often. And actually if things go wrong or you forget your questions, or it’s much easier to ad lib because you’ve got that experience behind you. I just love the points you make.

Matt: I’m sorry to interrupt Harsha, but it’s something you just said there is so important for developing communication skills. You have to take the time to reflect the only way you learn is to [00:29:00] think about what worked and what didn’t work. There’s that definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.

That’s how many of us communicate. We don’t take the time to think about what worked and what didn’t for many of us. Our goal is just to get through our communication. It’s not to actually learn from it and develop. So if you take the time to reflect, as you just said, podcasting is a great way to learn.

I’ve learned so much about myself and about the topics that we talk about because I take time to reflect what worked and what didn’t. So I’m sorry to interrupt you, but that is such a critical point to improve in communication. Anybody who interviews for a job, when you’re done, think about what worked in that interview, what didn’t work. So the next time you can capitalize on it.

Harsha: No, Matt, feel free to interrupt. You’re the talent here! It is a great point you make because, say, after the podcast, if you actually go back and you listen to what you’ve done, what the guest has said, there are always ways of improving things.

Ideally you’re trying to get a sort of three to [00:30:00] four minutes soundbite and you’re hopefully not trying to talk for too long, hopefully the guests also doesn’t talk for too long. So it’s, it’s getting that, that sweet spot, but I also like the point you make about fear because say you’re in you know, a public speaking situation or you’re presenting and yeah, clearly it’s that sort of flight or fight mentality, you’re in this sort of threat mode.

You’ve got to figure out a way of almost dialling down your anxiety and reframing it and saying, look, this is an opportunity. I could win a big client. I could make my boss look good and he would promote me. What are your thoughts on how to manage anxiety in those sort of situations?

Matt: Yeah, this is a big one. And managing anxiety is, is very, very important. And I like that you use the word manage. A lot of people say, how do I overcome? I don’t think you do. I mean, 85 percent of people report being nervous in high stakes situations. I think the other 15 percent are likely lying. I think we can make a situation where they’d get [00:31:00] nervous.

Being nervous in communication is part of the human condition. We can, however, learn to manage it so it doesn’t manage us. And we have to take a two pronged approach to managing our anxiety. We have to deal with symptoms, that’s what you physiologically experience in your body and your mind, and then there are the sources, the things that initiate and exacerbate the anxiety.

So I’ll give you some real quick examples on both those fronts. The single best thing you can do to calm yourself down physically and mentally is to take some deep breaths. Belly breaths, the kind of thing you would do if you’ve ever done yoga or tai chi or qigong, where you really inflate your lower abdomen.

And the key is the exhalation. You want the exhalation to be twice as long as the inhale. So if you take a three count in, take a six count out, and you only have to do that a couple times to slow down your autonomic physiology, to slow down your heart rate, to slow down your speaking, all of that, it benefits.

So deep breaths can really help. Similarly, [00:32:00] if you get shaky, a lot of people get shaky when they speak using big, broad movements, stepping towards the audience. If you’re physically in the same room, that can help. The shakiness is coming from adrenaline. Adrenaline’s sole purpose is to move you from threat to safety.

So anything you do that accommodates that can really help. So those are ways to manage Some of the symptoms and I have a ton of resources. I have a site called I have resources. There’s a whole set of resources dedicated just to anxiety management. My work, the work of others. We also have to think about sources and we’ve talked about some of those sources, you know, striving to be perfect gets in the way.

And so we, we need to reframe perfection and, and have our goal be about connection. If we remind ourselves that when we speak, we are in service of our audience, we have value to bring. That takes the pressure off of ourselves. Am I doing it right? I’m just giving you information. You’ve asked me to speak or you’ve asked to interview [00:33:00] me, which means you think there’s some value that I could bring here.

And so when I reframe it that way, it takes out some of those teeth that come with trying to be perfect. Another source has to do with what we’re trying to achieve. If I’m trying to get a job, that’s my goal. I’m nervous that I won’t get that job. My students are afraid they won’t get a good grade.

All of the the anxiety is coming from a goal based approach. That is what’s making us nervous is we are afraid of not achieving a potential future outcome. So to become more present oriented reduces that because by definition, if I’m in the present, I’m not worried about the future. So how do I do that?

I listen intently to what you say. I do something physical like take a walk around the building before I go into the interview. I say tongue twisters. This is a trick I do. I say tongue twisters before I start. You can’t say a tongue twister right and not be in the present moment. And it warms up your voice.

So before you and I got on this call, I said a [00:34:00] tongue twister a couple of times to warm up my voice as well as to get me present oriented. So lots of things we can do to manage symptoms and sources. And I encourage everybody to take some time to work on that.

Harsha: I love the point that you make about staying in the present because I think so many of us are looking forward too far and actually just listen to what the interviewer is saying or what somebody is asking you.

Actually just focusing then it just does take the nerves away. But moving on to another bit in your book, the Q&A section, because I think that is a really interesting thing because You can prepare for say, giving a presentation, but then what happens afterwards is, is slightly out of your control.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen. Have you ever done Toastmasters Matt? Clearly they talk about the more you do practice and you have your table topics and actually that spontaneous thing of, you know, you get the question, you always repeat the question and you say “Oh, [00:35:00] that’s a good question.” That buys you time to start thinking, what am I going to say?

Matt: I love Toastmasters. I was a Toastmaster for a little bit of time. I actually just spoke at their international convention. I am a huge proponent of what they do. If your listeners are not familiar with Toastmasters, I encourage them to check it out.

It’s very reasonably priced. Ridiculously price. And you meet weekly with people who are like minded trying to improve their communication and leadership skills. And really what it does is it gives you feedback and opportunities to practice. Now you did say one thing that I do not agree with. So sometimes we do need time to, to think if somebody asks us a question, we need to process.

We need to think about our answer. Maybe we need to think about the most appropriate way to give feedback. I am not a big fan of saying good question to give us that time, because if I’m constantly doing that, imagine I have five questions in a row and I go, Oh, good question. Good question. Good. It loses value.

I would [00:36:00] much rather you do one of three things. Either just pause. Silence is not a bad thing to ask a follow up question to clarify what that you’ve been asked or three, do a paraphrase where you summarize what the question is about. All of those I think are much more valuable than saying good question.

Now, occasionally you get a really good question, in which case I think you should say good question. But if you do it all the time, you devalue it and it looks like a trick.

Harsha: Matt, I’m from a sporting background, so I’m very coachable.

Matt: Okay, there you go. Everybody has to find their own style, but that’s a pet peeve I have when people always say, good question, good question, good question, because not every question is a question. Anybody who’s ever taught knows that’s true.

Harsha: One interesting thing you brought up there was this idea of silence, you maybe you’re discussing your appraisal or compensation with your boss.

And silence is, I think, a very powerful sometimes in that situation [00:37:00]

Matt: In any sort of conversation type situation. Silence is really important. And many of us feel very uncomfortable with silence. A lot of work gets done in silence by an audience. They’re processing information. They’re forming their thoughts. They’re thinking about how they can apply what they’ve said. I mean, if you think about it, when you’re speaking, your audience is following you. And when you come to silence, they catch up and there’s some sense of relief with that connection. If I’m constantly talking and never pausing, you’re constantly chasing after me and it can be exhausting to listen to a really fast talker for sure.

So pausing is important, taking a break. And forcing ourselves when we are in the listeners position to really be silent for a moment to allow the other person to finish and to feel really listened to is important. If you finish talking and I immediately jump in, that doesn’t feel so good. Right? So if I let it sit for a moment, it demonstrates I’m respecting you.

And giving you the floor to say even more. So I think silence [00:38:00] is really powerful. I used to, when I taught a public speaking class, and I haven’t taught this class for a number of years I used to have a moment of silence in class where every student got up in front of the class and for 90 seconds stood there in silence.

It was so hard, but my students would tell me it was one of the most powerful experiences they had in the class because it helped them to realize that it was not awful. Many of us fear silence and they got through it and they said, you know, it wasn’t bad. So, so learning to be in silence is a good thing.

Harsha: That’s a great point. When you’re giving a talk or a presentation, sometimes say if you make a joke, you actually need to give a pause because our brains just can’t catch up. And the really sad thing is sometimes you can make a really good joke. And because you go on so quickly, it’s just completely lost. Isn’t that right?

Matt: Yes, absolutely. And it’s not just with jokes, [00:39:00] you have to pause. I believe the most masterful communicators, planned or spontaneous, know how to play with silence. They know how to play with rhythm in their voices and cadence. And all of this is what adds to how we perceive them and their messages.

Harsha: That’s great and, say, in a workplace scenario what sort of thoughts would you give for our listeners about how can you stand out there without being too brash?

Matt: Certainly. So I talk a lot about this. You want to be confident, but not arrogant. And it’s a fine line sometimes. And I would recommend showing versus telling is the way to approach it. You can seem brash, egotistical, braggadocious if you just list things like, I was the best salesperson last year, or I’ve closed this many deals, or my boss told me I’m the best.

If I’m listing things, itemizing things, it’s [00:40:00] very different than, than me showing you how. So you talk to me about your approach to sales or, or how are you selling things rather than say, I’m great and I do this, I might say the last deal I closed took too much less time than we expected and it happened because I was able to connect. So I’m telling you the story and in the story, I’m demonstrating my abilities. This does two things. One, it makes me sound less braggadocious. And two, by telling you a story that you can turn around and tell to somebody else, that makes it much easier for you to represent me.

If I just give you my LinkedIn profile with a list of information, it’s hard to remember all of that. There are, there are really two ways to establish your credibility and demonstrate confidence. One, I call your schooling, your college and career credibility. That’s the list or itemization of what you’ve done.

And then I call it Costco. And I’m not sure Costco is all over the world, but it’s a big store that sells lots of [00:41:00] stuff and they give lots of free samples. When I was in grad school, I survived essentially going to Costco once or twice a week and eating a lot of their free samples. But why would they give away free things?

Because you try it, you experience it. And based on that experience, you say, yes, I want this. So if you can show people, give them an experience of your abilities, they’re going to see you as credible and confident in a very different way than if you just list it. So I often tell people lean into Costco credibility, not career and college credibility.

Harsha: I love that point because I think, you know if you can tell stories, it’s so firstly, that it’s much more memorable. It will resonate with whoever you’re telling. It’s much easier for them to go and explain that to somebody else as, “Oh, Matt, he, he told me this story about how he won this client and all the work that he had put in and how he had cleverly done the presentation.

Matt: Absolutely. Totally. Storytelling is really powerful and memorable. [00:42:00] Our brains are wired to take story in and remember it. Our brains are not wired for lists of information. I interviewed a tremendous number of neuroscientists, both on my podcast and for my book that talk about the power of storytelling, we spin up so many brain systems when you tell stories that make it more vivid and memorable that really, really makes a difference. And a key component of that is adding emotion in a lot of people, especially when job interviewing, et cetera, just state of the facts. When you tell a story, you can bring in some emotion and emotions are much more memorable and moving than just information.

Harsha: I think also going back to a presentation, if you’ve scripted the whole thing I mean, clearly you have to have some sort of structure, but you lose that spontaneity. Sometimes I think when you’re in the moment stuff just comes out to you, and you can make these off the cuff comments, because I think if you’ve really worked hard and [00:43:00] prepared, then you have a certain level of mastery in that subject, and sometimes these insights has come to you without thinking.

Clearly you have to have some flexibility as well when you’re presenting or communicating or whatever to be able to put in these nuggets of wisdom, which may come to you.

Matt: You’re absolutely right. And part of preparing for spontaneity is to think through some of those stories. So when I coach executives, I’ll say you should have a stockpile of a few stories that you can tell that support some of your key vision, mission and values of your company so that you can pull those in.

And it’s not that you’ve memorized the stories. But it’s the power of story that can help you. And just by thinking through these in advance, it makes a lot of sense to do.

Harsha: But are there any other key messages for our listeners, which we failed to cover in our discussion?

Matt: There’s one that, and thank you for the opportunity to, to fill in any blanks that I’ve perceived there’s one I’d like to spend a little bit of time.

And it [00:44:00] dovetails nicely off this notion of story structure is really, really important when we communicate. And to me, structure is a logical connection of ideas, beginning, middles and ends. And there are lots of structures that you can lean into when you’re communicating. And so I encourage people to think about ways of positioning their messages.

So, for example, one of my favorite structures in the whole world is “What?, So what?, Now what?” Three simple questions. And by answering these questions, you can tell a lot. So imagine somebody says, share with me one of the skills that you bring to this position. So I might say communication is really important in this role as a trainer.

It helps people to better understand the information that you’re teaching. That’s the what? In this role, I can bring to bear my 20 years of communication experience to really tailor the information to your participants, to your students. That’s the so what. [00:45:00] The now what is, I’d love to share with you a few examples of how I’ve done that in the past.

So “What?, So what?, Now what?” is a way of presenting information. And it’s not just for answering questions. It could be used for giving feedback, writing emails, having a structure, a beginning and a middle and an end can really, really help you.

Harsha: In one of your previous interviews, you mention you really need to think about the audience and what it is they want, because say you’re meeting a high level executive, he’s just concerned about, okay, I don’t really need to know about the operational issues.

It’s just tell me what is the bottom line? How much is this going to revenue or profit? And what are the risks? So literally like profit risks and downsides, and that’s it, but really tailor your message.

Matt: The most frequent bit of advice given across the hundred or so episodes I’ve done of my podcast, which is all about communication is exactly what you said.

The biggest bit of advice that comes from almost everybody I talked to said in different ways. Know your audience. [00:46:00] It’s about them. It’s not about you. You’re in service of your audience. One of my favorite versions of this, which is yet to be released Julian Treasure, who’s an expert at listening and teaching listening skills, says, what is the, what is the listening I am speaking into?

And I love that. That’s another way of saying what’s your audience care about. So yes, all of these that that’s an incredibly important point. And the what your audience is looking for what they need should determine, as you said, the structure that you use.

Harsha: Fantastic. And actually, the other thing I picked up was something your mother told you is Tell the time. Don’t build the clock.

Matt: I remember I talked about focus. Yes. My mother has a saying. I know she didn’t create it, but it’s tell the time. Don’t build the clock. A lot of us are clock builders. And we do this for several reasons. One, we want to rationalize and justify what it is we’re saying. So we want to give background.

Sometimes we want to just demonstrate how smart and capable we are. So we go all into this detail that’s [00:47:00] superfluous. I like to tell people, tell the time, and if people want to know how you built the clock, they’ll ask. Let them guide you. Don’t you assume that they need to know that.

Harsha: Fantastic. And Matt, before we end now, how can people get in touch with you? Obviously, you’re on LinkedIn, you’ve got a website, and all of this will be on our on the show notes.

Matt: Well, thank you. I mean, clearly your website sounds really useful. So thank you. So single best place to find me is mattabrahams. com. You can listen to the Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast. It’s everywhere that podcasts exists.

Consider buying the book, Think Faster, Talk Smarter. And as you said, I’m a huge user of LinkedIn and please connect with me. Happy to answer your questions there as well. And you have a YouTube channel as well. I do have. Thank you. I do. I have lots of, lots of videos up there. Lots of short videos that I hope are directly applied.


Harsha: Brilliant and Matt, one final thing. Is there anybody you’d like to give a shout out to who’s helped you in your life or career apart from your mom’s great [00:48:00] phrase.

Matt: So I remember we started with you asking me a question, expecting one answer, and I gave you many. I’m going to give you many.

So first and foremost, my family, my parents, my wife, my kids, incredibly supportive and helpful. I have studied martial arts for four decades. I’ve had one instructor primarily throughout that time. He’s been hugely impactful in my life. And one of my early teachers, Philip Zimbardo was an amazing professor, but he also taught me how to tell story, how to be engaged with the research you do, and primarily how to do work that really helps people.

So those are some of the biggest impact, people who’ve had impact, and certainly the teams that support me around my podcast and book have helped me a lot too.

Harsha: Well, Matt, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time and I’m sure our listeners will get huge value from your the things that you’ve said today.

Well, well, thank you

Matt: and keep up the good work. Your podcast is a great one and I’ve learned a lot from you as well. Thanks, Matt. Take

Harsha: care. Bye bye.

Matt: Thank you. Bye bye.[00:49:00]


*Reframe & Reset Your Career, including any comments made by the host and guests, is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice of any description, including but not restricted to financial, legal, investing or medical advice.

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