Tue, 6 October 2015
This Episode's Focus On Strengths
Michael Port joins us to help you lead through your strengths in all of the performances in your corporate life. You'll find this especially useful if you give presentations, if you're interviewing for a job, or if you're delivering a speech in front of others.
What You'll Learn
Resource of the Episode
Check out the book Steal The Show: From Speeches To Job Interviews To Deal-Closing Pitches, How To Guarantee A Standing Ovation For All Of The Performances In Your Life. Also, if you visit the Steal The Show website, there are great resources to download.
You'll read Steal The Show and you'll want more of Michael. It's a bit addicting. So here are his other books:
Remember, using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer. If you’re focused on fixing your weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. So claim your talents. And share them with the world.
Read the full conversation:
Lisa Cummings: Today you will experience a guest who is using his strengths in spades. Michael Port is joining me today to talk about stealing the show at your next job interview or corporate presentation and you might notice that the phrase ‘steal the show’ sounds a little bit like something an entertainer would do and it is, so Michael beautifully blends this experience he has as an actor with the business world in a way I don't think the business world has seen before. You guys might have seen him on Sex in the City or Law and Order or movies like the Pelican Brief and then in the business world you might be familiar with his marketing system “Book Yourself Solid” or speaker training called Heroic Public Speaking. And let me tell you guys, he is living the idea of using your strengths at work. So, speaking of that, Michael, can you talk a little bit about discovering work that just looks so natural on you when someone else sees it? I dare I say it kind of looks like you're living out your calling.
Michael Port: I think that I've always worked in the areas that I'm strong because the areas that I'm weak in are really weak. I'm not kidding. One of the reasons that this idea of working within your strengths were so powerful to me early in my career is because I’m very dyslexic. Growing up I had a hard time with the systems that were presented in school. So the way things were taught didn't always make sense to me. I still can't spell to save my life. I have to ask my girlfriend how something is spelled, you know, the most basic things that I've written. But as of this show, I have written sixth books, which just goes to show you that you don't actually need to know how to spell it to write. And I got very, very good at identifying things I needed help with and developing relationships with people that could help me with those things.
Michael Port: And this is important because what I have experienced is those who think that they need to do everything themselves have a hard time progressing in their career because they don't rely on other people or call for help from other people when they need it. So they end up mediocre in a number of different areas and the areas in which they could be exceptional, you know, they end up mediocre as well because they're not spending as much time in those areas. So for me as a performer, I had a natural talent for performing. And so I went to graduate school and got a master's at enacting at the Grad acting program at NYU and I did have to craft a set of skills that would allow me to exploit those talents because I think without training, talents are just talents; with training talents become a craft. Michael Cain, the wonderful actor says something to the effect of “Whether I have talent or not is not an issue, I’m a professional actor with a craft.”
And that I think is something that we should all consider that it should have. Mastery with respect to skills is so important and it’s really helpful to focus on the areas where we're strong. The thing that's tricky for some people is that they need to present. They need to present themselves in job interviews, in promotional situations, interviews and trying to go in and get the job or get the job promotion, sales pitches, and leading meeting, etc.
Lisa Cummings: So, let’s focus on meeting and corporate presentations on
Michael Port: Sure. So the issue is, you know, some people feel that they are naturally gifted, that “I can wing it.” I go in and, or go give her a speech or presentation. I'll just quick on my feet. No problem. Others go nerve and said, “I don't know what to say. Uh, I'm, I'm kind of stiff.”
Michael Port: And both of those groups face their own challenges. Let's start with the group that thinks that they have something special first; that group can get by and more often than not they end up average when they could be exceptional because they think that they are naturally talented, so they don't prepare. They don't spend much time rehearsing. They wing it. And when I meet somebody who's like that and I call them on it. I said, listen, you're not preparing, are you? You're just going and winging it. (and they say) “Yeah”. and I think you could be usually you can be better, don't you?
Michael Port: We generally don't rise to the occasion. Rather we fall back on our training
Lisa Cummings: and it's a perfect example of your, what you said about investing in your talents and then you turn it into a craft by rehearsing, by putting the practice in.
Michael Port: Absolutely. So anytime we have a meeting that we need to lead or an interview that we want to net. We want to make sure that we can demonstrate to the people in the room is that we know what the world looks like to them. That's very important that we start there because if we don't start there, they may not think we understand that, so they need to know that we understand that, so we always start with the way the world looks to them right now. Then we make sure that they know the promise that we're making, the promise that is inherit, is built into the meeting or the interview so that if they follow your lead, this is what will occur and they need to know the consequences of what will happen if they don't, if they don't achieve this promise, if they don't realize this promise, what are the consequences? How bad are they? And what do the rewards look like if they do?
Lisa Cummings: And gave you some urgency when you combine those together?
Michael Port: Absolutely. Act and urgency is such an important part of getting anything done, you know, moving forward in any way. Do we have urgency? So what does the world look like? What's the promise that you're making to them? What are the consequences of not following through on this and what are the rewards of following through on this?
Lisa Cummings: It also sounds like that could be a strategy for that person who doesn't feel like they were born with jazz hands to dazzle and have charisma and they're a little more shy or they're nervous in front of audiences and they're saying, hey, come on Michael, you do this for a living. I'm totally uncomfortable in the spotlight. What do I do? It sounds like you go to apply what you just said to relate one to one and then build from there. What else do you offer that person?
Michael Port: First of all, I’m nervous all the time, anyone who cares about what they're doing, maybe a little bit nervous, and often I hear advice to people that get nervous and don't think that they're naturally talented. They suggest that they focus on their breathing or that you a physical warm-up, relax a little bit. Those are great. Those are really important things to do. Get your instrument ready to perform, but here's the thing, the more that you focus on yourself, more internal you get before you present, often the more anxious you will be because you're thinking about you and how you look and how you're going to do when in fact, if you focus on the audience and what you're going to help them with, what you're going to do for them; if you focus on their needs, their desires, their goals, then you take the pressure off of yourself and it no longer is about you. It's about them and if it's about them, you get out of your own way and you are less likely to be as anxious.
Lisa Cummings: That's one of those tips that sounds so obvious when you hear it, yet people don't do it and I see you do one thing masterfully that they could use, which is before you give a speech, you're out there relating one to one, to people in the audience so that they're not the big scary monster when they're. When you're up on stage, how do you go about that and how would you recommend doing that for someone who is trying to shake the stage fright and have a personal connection with the audience?
Michael Port: If I give a speak at a convention center to 6,000 people, most people who are listening to probably not giving those kinds of speeches, so if you're giving a presentation to a room full of five people or 50 people want to try to shake the hand of every person in the room, look them in the eye, smile, make a connection before you present to them for a couple of reasons. One, it may relax you because you feel like you've gotten to know them. Two, they feel that they know you and they are going to give you more of themselves right from the beginning because if you are someone who they don't have a relationship, then they are more likely to sit back, cross their arms and say, all right, let me see what you got. But if they've shaken your hand, talk to you for just a few seconds. Even look me in the eye, smiled. They already feel an obligation towards you. Feel an obligation to you to listen to you right off the bat. Now if you don't serve them throughout the presentation, then they may sit back and cross their arms and go, hi, come on. But if you're focusing on them throughout and the promise that we're going to deliver to them, then it's likely that they will.
Lisa Cummings: I could see that they want to have your back. If you've had a conversation, you have a different relationship with them just straight away.
Michael Port: Of course they do. If they are going to sit there and listen to you, they'd much rather enjoy themselves than be bored. I mean, isn't that the case? Of course there's always somebody who just wants to be oppositional, but most people want to have a good time. So they want you to do a great job. I want you to serve that and they want you to have fun doing it. So here's the thing. Often people will start a presentation by saying, I'm really happy to be here. Really excited to be here, but I don't think you need to say that. I think you can just actually show them that you're happy to be there because, what's the alternative to being happy to be there? That you're really pissed that you're there. So just show that there's a lot of things that we often say at the beginning of the speech that is just filler and it actually makes the presenter to look weak. For example, they may you here present presenter say, all right, let's get started. Well, it started as soon as they saw you. It started even before if somebody introduced you with a Bio. So as soon as you're introduced, it's already started. So any filler that you might do, you can cut and get right to the heart of the matter.
Lisa Cummings: Everything's an interview. You're always on stage at work. People are watching you a year before you decide to apply for the job and then you walk into a room where you're giving a presentation and eyes are on you very keenly because you’re the one who was about to deliver a message. It's a really great thing to think about that; people are always assessing. That's just what we do to discern as humans.
Michael Port: Chapter three - in Steal the Show is about playing the right role, every situation. So this is specifically geared for people that need to perform in lots of different situations, not on a stage necessarily, but inside your organization you may need to play different roles with different people. Some people are superior in terms of their position, a supervisor, some people are subordinate, and you are a sort of, as a leader for some people are on the same pay scale, so to speak. Sometimes you have to deal with folks in the mailroom. Sometimes you have to deal with folks in the marketing department. Sometimes you have to deal with folks in the accounting department. Sometimes you have to deal with folks in the sales department and each department may have different culture, different sensibility, different types of personalities. And we've got to be able to move through all of these environments very comfortably.
Michael Port: And if we learn how to play the role that is the right role for that situation, well, then we can excel because the people in those other environments, they feel more comfortable with you. They feel you get that. You understand that. And folks who are comfortable adopting different styles of behavior, playing different roles in different situations, often excel more quickly than those who only have one style of behavior, who are overly true to self. Now listen closely because this may seem like a confrontational idea, people like that because it seems like it's an authentic thing to do. However, if you are so true to yourself, you cannot easily flow from one situation to the next with different types of people where you need to play different roles. Then you generally get left out of those situations, but if you are chameleon like, then you are generally invited to more environments, more situations with different types of people. Now, here's the thing. The reason this is often confronting us, people say, yeah, that seems inauthentic, Michael. It seems like you know, a chameleon changes their colors depending on the environment that they're in. That's not authentic, but if you think about it, a chameleon is a hundred percent authentic. When an actual chameleon is at a green leaf? it actually turns green. It's not pretending to turn green. It has actually turned agree. If it is on a red leaf? It's actually turning red. It's not pretending to turn red, so It is absolutely authentic.
Lisa Cummings: It's just a part. It's revealing.
Michael Port: So you're amplifying. What you're doing is amplifying different parts of your personality so that you fit comfortably into these different situations.
Lisa Cummings: It's perfectly aligned with what I talk about in strengths is there's a raw version and a mature version of your strengths and if you're mature enough in that strength and you've really invested in that talent, then when you show up, you can decide which strength to lead with based on the environment you're in so that you can show up your best and show your red when you need red and show your green when you need green.
Michael Port: Exactly. Green is not called for in that situation or might make trouble for you, leave the green at home. Right? You know, sometimes you know, we walk around with a chip on our shoulders and want to make sure that everybody knows how we feel about every little thing and in fact that can be very counterproductive inside the corporate world because you may create conflict inadvertently, but you may create conflict based on some of the ideas you have or worldview or ways you feel about different situations that aren't really necessary to bring it up all the time. Now, I'm not saying in any way, shape or form that you should not be true to your values.
Michael Port: This is important to me. Integrity is an essential fabric of my way of being that we should be true to our values, but this idea of being true to yourself in such a way that it creates rigidity? Well, that's a problem and that's very different than saying, you know what? I'm not going to jump over that fence into a place that says no trespassing because it's a nuclear waste site. Even if that's supposed to help my career, I'm not going to do. That's being true to your values. Here's the thing, just because you have a different value system doesn't mean you have to share it all the time.
Lisa Cummings: It's such an important distinction because if it's really hot right now to talk about authenticity and authenticity is important, yet the definition of it is very loose. It depends on who you are and what you believe about it and I do hear a lot of people equate authenticity with sharing everything that comes to the tip of their tongue at every moment and that might be a really bad career move.
Michael Port: I'm with you 100 percent. This buzzword as I just hear, authenticity, authenticity, authenticity and authenticity and yes, I think has become a problem because it means to some people like, hey, let me tell you about my date last night, man, she was hot. That is not something that needs to be discussed in the break room at the table. So that kind of authenticity is not called for, and this is performance. this one I'm talking about, like Shakespeare said, all the world's a stage and I think he hit the nail right on the head because what you share with people tells them something about you, and this is not just performance, is not just about speaking in front of people. Performance is about the way you walked into the break. Do you walk in with your head down looking at the floor or do you walk in with your shoulders back and your chest open and a big smile on your face that is performance and you're playing a role, but this is, you know, it's performance and the question is, are you the kind of performer that says yes to people and plays well with others and is part of an ensemble or are you the kind of performer that upstages people and stealing the show and upstaging people is very different.
Michael Port: Stealing the show, it means that you have brought something to others that is extraordinary. That's special and what it does is it makes the whole show better, but it's not upstaging anybody else. Upstaging is trying to purposely hinder somebody else's performance. You've never going to do that.
Lisa Cummings: I appreciate having the difference there because someone not familiar with the term may have thought, oh, that's, I don't know that I want to steal the show from someone. So you're very good to have the distinction. Now, here's a situation where maybe somebody thinks they should and I don't think so, but what about job interviews that gets people in a very competitive mindset. So I've loved hearing your perspective on competition and how that works. So what do's and don'ts would you suggest for stealing the show with a potential employer and they're just learning as much as they can about them, but they don't know as much as they would in a regular work environment where they've been an employee.
Michael Port: Competition is fantastic, but not when you compete with others, you know, competition is something that drives us. And the question is, are you competitive in such a way that you are knocking other people down or are you competitive in such a way that you want to produce more because you're urgent, you have urgency and hopefully so when you're in a job interview situation, you want to look at what role are they trying to cast, this is important, what role are they trying to cast and how would you play that role? For example, when I left acting, the first interview I had was for a middle management position at a fitness club and I wanted to be the group exercise manager. I was teaching a spinning class because I raced bikes and that was a fun thing to do and I taught the class once a week, but I absolutely no experience in group exercise management whatsoever.
Michael Port: I didn't tell any of the certifications that were required for that job. So I said, well, it doesn't seem like I have what they're asking for to play this role but let me see what I have done in my past that I could use to demonstrate that I could play this role. And I identified the way the role is currently played and then I crafted the way that I thought the role could be played better. So, for example, the way that they played this role currently is they would hire the top instructors in fitness to be the managers, which I didn't think turned out that well because they weren't necessarily managers. It was a different skill-set. So I presented the idea that the role should be cast with somebody that has management skill and understands performance and creating theatrical experiences. And they said, hmm, I hadn't thought about it that way.
Michael Port: And I said, look, if you look at the managers that you have now in this particular department, you'll notice that there are payroll issues. People don't always get paid what they should when they should. There are often scheduling issues, dropped classes and they're often human resource issues. And I knew this because I had been teaching a class and I said, I think this is because the folks who are running these departments don't have experience in management. And I said that I have experienced because I was producing plays and tv commercials when I was acting and so I said, look, I understand budgeting, I understand production. I understand casting, which of course is important part of which is hiring and let me demonstrate why this will translate to what you have to do here. I also understand about creating theatrical experiences and all of these different classes should be theatrical experiences. That's what makes them so compelling to the members. I know I don't have this certification or that certification, but if you need them, I can get them in short order and guess what? They took a chance on me and within a short period of time, six months, in fact, I was running the division for the entire company throughout the country
Lisa Cummings: It ties so beautifully with what you were talking about where you thought all about them. It's all about the audience. What do they care about? What are they trying to achieve? And you tied that into productivity for the company and then you linked into your strengths and leaned in on what you're great at and what you could offer. So the two things came together perfectly.
Michael Port: Exactly right. One of those developing this character to play this role. I didn't pretend those anything other than I was. That's the key. When you go in for job interview, if you pretend you are anything other than you are, that's when you're inauthentic. That's when you're faking this role and a great performer never fakes their role. The most authentic performance in the world, the best performers in the world are the most authentic performers in the world. And often the most authentic performers in the world are the most authentic people. So if you look at actors like Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, these are honest performers. One of the reasons you love watching them is because they seem so real and they are real. They don't pretend to be feeling what they're feeling when they are having an emotional experience. They are actually feeling that, which is why you feel it.
Michael Port: And so you don't want to pretend that you're, that you are somebody that you're not. You want to go in there and leverage what you have to turn it into what you want so you can play lots of different roles as long as you can see, take your strengths and the things that you've done and figure out a way to apply them to this new situation. And that is role play. That in part is also improvisation because you are responding to what is coming at you in the moment. So people often ask about preparation and say, well, you know, if I prepare too much, then I feel like, you know, I'm on, I'm going to be stiff. You know, how much should I prepare? And I say, you should prepare more than you think you should prepare. You know, if I asked somebody if they've rehearsed, you know, before they give a presentation and say, oh yeah, I went over to the hotel room a few times before I get it.
Michael Port: That's not rehearsal. But one of the reasons that we are afraid of the rehearsals because we think we're going to get stuck in the patterns or in the exact process or protocol that we rehearsed in our presentation and that is only because we are not in the moment during that presentation or during that interview, but if you're so well prepared that you can throw out what you've prepared before you walk into the room and stay in the moment, then everything that you worked on, other thing that you prepared will come to you naturally and organically in that moment and if what we prepared doesn't apply to what's actually happening in the moment, because sometimes interviewers will throw things at you that you did not expect, you won't get stuck. You won't feel like you're trying to draw on something that you prepared even though it doesn't fit to the situation at hand. But rather you're in the moment and you're answering by saying “yes and” which is an important improper technique. We don't say no. We always say yes, and you try to come up with a response that is honest and organic to that situation.
Lisa Cummings: What a way to whet the appetite. I'm big on improv. I take improv classes and love them.
Michael Port: The second part of Steal the Show, introduce the performance principals, specifically principals that performers use to steal the show and how each of those principles can be used in everyday life for the nonactive, for real regular person and one of them is the principle of saying “yes and” which is what's something you learned on shore and improv class because if I'm doing, if you and I are doing an improv scene and you walk in the in the room were on the stage and say, oh my god, I broke my leg. I'm in so much pain. And I say, no, no, no, you're fine. You're fine. It just it's over. this scene is done. But obviously, oh my god, that's terrible. But you know what they said your hair looks fantastic and you say, I know it's because I was at the hair salon was getting a haircut.
Then I colored my hair that you show the chemicals. I fell out of the chair, fell down, broke my leg. Well, now we've got somewhere to go. So saying yes, it says an important part of improvisation and so when you're in a meeting and somebody comes up with an idea that you're not crazy about, the default response is, yeah, but we got to worry about this as opposed to yes, and we can also think about this, and it changed the dynamic of the relationship the entire. Because you're not saying no to people. You're saying yes ad and you will then talk about some of the issues that may come up, but it's not a no, it's a yes. And if everybody in the room says “yes and” rather than no, you will change the feeling in the room, which of course changes the collaborative spirit, which then changes the results. What you produce in that room. Because I'm not just a former actor who writes books about business and give speeches. I run two very, very competitive companies. Two of the top companies in the industry and you know, we employ lots of people. We have tens of thousands of clients and customers around the world and we run our businesses the same way that we would work in an ensemble if we were performers and I have detailed all of that in Steal the Show.
Lisa Cummings: It's such a beautiful tip and we can turn it into a challenge for the listener. So if you're a listener and you find yourself playing the devil's advocate all the time and meetings, challenge yourself for a week to get out there and instead say those two simple words, “yes and” make yourself follow on the sentence and build. Instead of breaking it down.
Michael Port: It's one of my rules. Listen, if anybody in an interview for our company says they like to be the devil's advocate, they're out. They're gone. It doesn't mean we want, “yes people”. The devil's advocate just likes being oppositional and I don't want people who like being oppositional. I love when people find holes in our theories and the things that we're working on. They say “yes and” I have an idea of how we can plug that hole, but the devil's advocate doesn't devil's advocate. Now there's a hole there. That's where the devil's advocate, that we call them the DA. We don't want any idea is in the room.
Lisa Cummings: Definitely using that one. That's great.
Michael Port: That's actually in the book. This whole concept of the devil's advocate and the DA.
Lisa Cummings: Who knew I was getting into that part. That's great. Well, dear readers, you might've guessed that the resource of the episode is Michael's book. The title is Steal the Show: from speeches to job interviews to deal closing pitches, how to guarantee a standing ovation for all the performances in your life. Michael, any other goodies you want to tell them about if they're interested in finding more about you because you know you write those books and they're like potato chips. Once you eat one, you're going to want another. So I'll link to all those in the show notes as well. Your other five bestselling titles.
Michael Port: That's fantastic. So stealtheshow.com. I've got lots of bonuses, free videos to watch on performance, lots of downloads, tips, cheat sheets, etc. So to stealtheshow.com, you can pick those up and of course buy the book, you'll love it. I promise.