On today’s episode of Steal the Show, we’re talking about using the tricks of the journalism trade for producing better storytelling online and on stage. 

Ann Handley is a digital marketing pioneer and the author of the Wall Street Journal bestselling book Everybody Writes and Content Rules. Named by IBM as one of the seven people shaping modern marketing, she has more than 400,000 LinkedIn followers. 

How You Can Steal the Show

  • How an introverted storyteller and writer wound up on the big stage (and came to love it). 
  • How she uses the skills she learned as a journalist to feel confident and serve her audience while on stage. 
  • Her top three secrets for teaching leaders something new.  
  • How she uses “pathological empathy” to understand her audiences.  
  • Her re-definition of authenticity and why it’s about personality, not what’s personal.  
  • Why going for funny is never her goal, but having fun is. 
  • Her secret ingredients for humor.  
  • Why you should “poke your nose out” in life and on stage, even if you’re not ready yet. 
  • What no one tells you about the hat you’ll need to wear after publishing a book.  
  • The one thing that every speaker and author must have to succeed (it’s not an enormous social media following, even though she has one.) 
  • The key assets meeting planners look for when booking speakers.

Learn more about Ann and subscribe to her newsletter here. You can purchase your copy of Everybody Writes here.

As if she weren’t cool enough already, did you also know Ann met fellow girl boss Tina Fey?

If you enjoyed this show, you may also want to hear:

Episode 115: Amy Port on Writing and Performing a Killer Keynote
Episode 111: AJ Harper on Writing for the Page vs. Writing for the Stage

Michael:
Growing up, Ann Handley never thought she’d set foot on a stage. The self-proclaimed quiet, nerdy child only thought her words would reach those who read what she wrote. Fast forward to present day, The Wall Street Journal best-selling author of Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide for Creating Ridiculously Good Content and digital marketing pioneer speaks to audiences worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity and shares why Edible Arrangements will never, ever be one of her sponsors. On today’s episode of Steal the Show, Ann talks about the moment she realized she could speak onstage and how she serves her audiences through her storytelling skills. Enjoy.

Michael:
You recently keynoted an opening session before 12,000 people at a marketing conference in Brazil. And at Content Marketing World, a little birdie, I won’t tell you who, but you know who, said that there was such a long line to see you that some people couldn’t get seats and they had to watch you on video. Obviously, you didn’t start your career in such an auspicious position. You were a journalist and then a content marketing consultant and, of course, I think, one of the first to recognize the power of content creation to engage customers. Why did you start speaking, and what has it done for your career?

Ann:
Hmm. Wow, such a big question. Here’s the thing. I never thought that I wanted to be a speaker. We know people like that, right?

Michael:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ann:
We know people who almost feel that they are born for the stage. That was never me. I never was laying in my little twin bed, alone in the dark when I was a little child and thought, “God, I can’t wait for the big stage.”

Michael:
Yeah, right.

Ann:
Above anything.

Michael:
I just interviewed Scott Stratten-

Ann:
Yes.

Michael:
… a week or two ago. He told us about how when he was, I think, just a teenager, he saw Les Brown on TV and he said, “That’s what I want to do.” And I’m like you, I didn’t even know this world existed.

Ann:
Yeah. Yeah, that was not me. Whatever Scott is, I would be at the very opposite end of that spectrum. Yeah, I always identified as a writer. I was shy and introverted, and I just saw myself as becoming a writer, a storyteller, somebody who could share my thoughts and ideas with the world basically through writing, through writing books, through writing newsletters. I had a newsletter when I was eight years old that I delivered, I published myself, and I delivered on my bike around the neighborhood.

Michael:
Oh, my gosh.

Ann:
I was always really into writing, but not just for myself. As a bookish, introverted child, people, the grownups in my life, always gave me diaries because that’s the … Journals, that’s the thing you’d give a bookish, introverted child. Right?

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
But I always thought that was so boring. I never really understood the point of writing down my own ideas for me. I always felt like I needed an audience. That’s really where speaking tracks back to is the idea of as a writer, I always wanted to have an audience. I always wanted to use my writing to grow those connections with an audience. Fast forward 30 years or whatever, it took me a while to realize that what you do onstage, engaging an audience and speaking to them directly, not just singing into your hairbrush into the mirror in your bedroom, but actually standing on a stage and looking into the faces of people that you’re trying to connect with, that it’s exactly the same thing as being a writer who writes for the audience. It’s just that the delivery is different, of course. The method is different. The mode is different. But at the same time, I think that connection is really what drives me as a writer, and it’s what drives me as a speaker as well.

Michael:
One of the things that I’ve seen, I’ve heard you say is that you can tell instantly if you’ve connected with an audience.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
How do you know, and what happens if you haven’t?

Ann:
I can just tell by looking at the faces of people in the audience. One of the things I dislike the most is when I, and you’ve probably had this experience, too, when you’re speaking to a room and the lights are very, very low and you can’t see the audience. Sometimes that happens, like the 12,000 people in Brazil, which was an incredible experience, by the way. It’s the second time I’ve done that event, and it was really, it was so special and so insane. Even thinking about it now, I can’t believe that actually happened. But such an amazing event, such an amazing experience.

Ann:
Obviously, you’re not going to see all those 24,000 eyes staring back at you. But I look for those people in the audience who I can tell are most engaged and I can speak to them directly. I’m sure a lot of speakers have this approach, but, to me, it’s a vibe, it’s a feeling of the look on people’s faces. It’s how they’re responding. Are they laughing? Are they picking up the cues that I’m signaling? I can tell pretty readily when that’s happening.

Ann:
When that doesn’t happen, I try to adjust. I think that’s the challenge and the opportunity. What I love about public speaking is just that ability to realize this isn’t working, so you’ve got to shift your approach slightly. I try not to let that happen by doing a lot of research ahead of time on the mindset of the audience, not just the industry, not just sort of what this company is. Is this a big corporation? Is this a nonprofit? Whatever. All that stuff, of course, matters, but also what are the real challenges that people in this audience are facing? How are they going to show up? Not just what am I going to do, but what is their point of view? Who are they?

Ann:
Again, I think that comes from my background as a journalist and as a writer, because I’ve always been concerned not with speaking my truth, but speaking it in a way that actually makes sense for other people, that they can connect with and relate to.

Michael:
Yes, please. Let’s talk a little bit about your research process, because you are very, very good at customizing your speeches for your audiences. In fact, I think you’re one of the best in the business at this. You’re not creating a new speech every time you go speak, of course, but you have this really on-point ability, especially in your openings, to use the language that is really relevant to that particular audience to demonstrate that you understand the world in which they live, et cetera. Can you tell us a little bit about your research process and how much of the way that you do the research on the companies that you’re going to go speak to, how much of that is influenced by your background as a journalist?

Ann:
Yeah. It’s a hundred percent influenced by my background as a journalist. What I do is three specific things before every single gig. The first is doing that client conversation. You’ve booked the gig. They’re anticipating you. They’re at their highest level of excitement that you are going to show up, and so typically they’ll schedule a client call, which may be, what, a month or six weeks before the event, depending on the organizer.

Ann:
During that call, I mean, of course, we’ll ask all the questions that probably most speakers would ask. Who is the audience? What is their level of … Where are they at in their career? Is it a broad audience? Is it just marketers? Is it across the business? All the things that you need to know. I call that the demographics of the audience. But then I also think about the psychographics. What is their mindset? What’s the feeling of the people in the audience? Has there recently been a re-org, for example?

Ann:
You don’t ask the organizer, “Are people nervous?” But you can ask things like, “How long have people been in their jobs? Is the boss that they have now, would that typically have been the boss that they’ve had since the beginning of their career? Just to try to get to where people are at, how are they feeling. Are they excited about this group coming together? If this is, for example, the first marketing offsite that they’re doing, why is that? Why is this the first one? Sometimes it’s because there’s a renewed emphasis on marketing because there’s a new CMO. But sometimes it’s because there’s been a shakeup, and people may be a little bit like, nah, not so comfortable with each other yet.

Ann:
I think it’s really important to get into the heads of the people there and try to understand where they’re coming from so you can begin to sort of affiliate with them when you get onstage. When you get onstage, you don’t say, “Listen, I know everybody here is nervous.” You don’t do that. But I think there’s ways that you can signal, I understand who you are. It’s the first thing-

Michael:
I actually do that.

Ann:
Do you?

Michael:
Well, because I’m teaching public speaking and performance.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
They’re nervous, and so one of the things that we’re always working toward is safety. Sometimes they see us, and they say, “Oh, well, we’re not like you. For you, this is easy. For us, this is hard.” One of the ways that we work towards safety is just addressing that it’s perfectly normal, very, very common. In fact, it’s unusual not to have some anxiety around this particular thing, and here’s why, which is very different, of course, than, “Listen, I understand that there are some big issues going on in your company and you don’t know if you’re going to be here next week.” They’re two totally different things.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
Of course.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
No, that’s exactly right. I think you just hit it, creating that moment of safety. The way that I think about that is that I want to be affiliative. I’m on your side. I’m here to help you. As opposed to I’m here to tell you what’s wrong with your company and what’s wrong with your job and how you’re marketing, if I’m talking to a marketing group. Because that’s who I am as a speaker. I want to be on your side. I’m here to be a resource to you, to help you. Here’s what I think you’re doing in an amazing way, and here’s what I think you could be doing a little bit better. Anyway, that’s the first piece.

Ann:
The second piece is that I do a lot of social prospecting. I sort of look around to see what are they sharing on social, what are they talking about. Just taking a look at all their channels and sort of getting a vibe for the company and where they’re at. You can get a lot of information just about how they communicate and how they’re positioning themselves.

Ann:
The third thing that I do is I go to the website or I go to their social channels and I do what I call a kind of undercover boss of all of that. I’ll do things like sign up for email newsletters. If a chatbot pops up, I’ll …

Michael:
Chat.

Ann:
Chat. Yeah, pose as a potential prospect or somebody who just happened to land on their site, that kind of thing. You can get a lot of information about how they’re thinking about their customers and whether they are truly customer-centric, for example, which is one of the things that I talk about a lot. Yeah, it’s a combination of all of those things.

Ann:
And I guess the final thing would be listening in all of those situations to the specific words and terms that people use at the company, the organizers of the event. There’s always those, not exactly buzzwords, but how are they phrasing things, how are they talking about things. This goes back to my background as a journalist where a lot of what I did was write down what people are saying as they were saying it, so taking notes and really looking for those kind of keywords. What are the words that jump out at me that they’re using at this company that maybe other companies don’t use? What’s their language?

Michael:
Yeah, the language is very, very important because generally, a culture that has some history to it has developed a language that’s spoken only inside that culture. For example, I’m going with a few of our coaches to do some work with Dell in two weeks, and one of the things they’ve spoken about is the need for an emphasis on creating what they call data-driven stories.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
It appears to be the phrase that they use when they really mean overall messaging that is supported by data and metrics. They don’t actually mean stories as we define them.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
And that was an important distinction, because if we felt that they just meant stories, then we might have geared the training to have too much emphasis on just storytelling for storytelling’s sake.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
They don’t actually just mean telling stories. They mean messaging that’s supported by data and metrics, and that’s an important distinction. I love how you’re looking at the language that they use and trying to interpret it to determine what they’re actually saying so that you can speak to that but also use their language.

Ann:
Yes, exactly. Yeah, that’s a fantastic example, and that’s the kind of thing that I see a lot. When I first started as a speaker, I would use my language, you know?

Michael:
Yeah, sure.

Ann:
And then, again, it was part of my evolution of realizing that, oh, my life as a writer and as a journalist is actually … There’s an evolution onto the stage, and so why don’t I just tap that more often. I thought that I was inventing some sort of new career, but ultimately, when I started to have more success, I realized that I’m not inventing a new career. I’m just applying that craft in a different way-

Michael:
Yes.

Ann:
… using different tools. But it’s exactly the same approach.

Michael:
Yeah, you’re just reconfiguring your set of skills into a new medium.

Ann:
Exactly.

Michael:
Yeah. You’ve talked about pathological empathy. Thinking about things from another person’s point of view is crucial, of course, in marketing, which is where your domain expertise is.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
It sounds like you’re doing the same thing here when you’re thinking about the work you do for audiences. Could you talk a little bit more about what you mean by pathological empathy? Because that sounds like something my father, the psychiatrist, might refer to. I’m just wondering what exactly you mean.

Ann:
Yeah. I spoke to a-

Michael:
Because that’s a very Ann-ism. That’s like only Ann Handley is going to come up with that one.

Ann:
Yeah. I know. I spoke to a healthcare group recently, and they really loved that because they thought it was just for them, the whole pathological empathy thing. I said, “Yes, absolutely. It’s just for you.” They really appreciated that. Yeah.

Ann:
What I mean by pathological empathy, I think empathy is one of those words that can feel a little squishy certain times, especially-

Michael:
Sort of like authenticity.

Ann:
Yeah. Oh, gosh.

Michael:
Yeah. Don’t get you started on that.

Ann:
Don’t even get me going on that.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
No, but I think empathy is massively important, and it really just means looking at the world from another’s point of view, not through your own lens but sort of, as I call it, kind of zipping yourself inside their skin for a little while and walking around. We just talked about that, how I do it from a speaker prep point of view, but I also think that marketing needs to do it from a marketing point of view. Getting inside the sort of skin of your audience, feeling what they feel. Undercover bossing your own brand is what I talk about from time to time. Really understanding not just who you’re speaking to, which marketers are so good at. They’re so good at doing research on demographics and psychographics and understanding sort of in general the audience segments that they’re talking to.

Ann:
But when I talk about pathological empathy, I’m saying, okay, so you know that, but now take that one step deeper. Get a little bit more specific about that. Think about what is motivating them? Who are they going to for information? Who are they at their core? What are their hopes and dreams and fears? And don’t think of an audience segment. Think of actual people, an individual or two. And I think when you start thinking about things at a individual level, it just changes the way you communicate.

Ann:
In marketing, we hear a lot about human to human and we talk about marketing to humans, but I still think that that’s too broad. I think that keeps us in this mindset of marketing to segments and marketing to personas, when, really, I think the power of marketing that’s done very, very well is having that pathological empathy, of having that focus on a single person that you are helping at any given time.

Michael:
Let’s talk about authenticity. I’m going to do it. I’m going to take you there. Let’s do it.

Ann:
Man, you’re hitting on my triggers today.

Michael:
I know, right?

Ann:
Yeah. [crosstalk 00:17:05]. You know why? It’s because I have pathological empathy. So I’m like, “What really triggers Ann? Let me ask her those questions.”

Ann:
The other thing about pathological empathy is that it’s memorable. Right?

Michael:
Yes.

Ann:
It’s not just like empathy. Everybody talks about empathy, but I’m talking about pathological empathy. It sounds almost dangerous. It sounds like something that as a marketer that you kind of want to know about because it’s [crosstalk 00:17:27].

Michael:
Yeah, cursed. Let’s talk about pathological authenticity.

Ann:
Pathological authenticity. I’m just going to start … That’s maybe the next title of my book. I like that a lot.

Michael:
Oh, good, excellent. I’ll take a first acknowledgment in the book.

Ann:
Okay.

Michael:
That’d be great. Thanks a lot.

Ann:
Be great.

Michael:
Here’s the thing. Authenticity is definitely a buzzword, certainly in the marketing world and definitely in the speaking world. It’s funny to me because here at HPS, we’re helping people play the right role in the situations that they’re in. And these very high-stake situations, often it’s important to identify the role that we need to play and then, if we have the skills to play that role, then we can often achieve our objective.

Michael:
Often, what we hear people told when they’re speaking is, “Well, just be yourself. Just be authentic,” which I always find interesting, because if I was a hundred percent authentic every time I got onstage, it might not go that well, because if I’m tired because I just flew a red-eye and I maybe have a cold, and, I don’t know, maybe one of the kids was giving me a hard time, maybe I’m not in a great mood. If I walked out onstage and said, “Listen, I got a cold. I don’t really want to be here. I know you guys are paying me a ton of money, but, frankly, I’m fricking exhausted, so I’m just going to do this, get through it, and then go home and go to the spa, so let’s go,” that’s probably not a great opening.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
Now there may be some authenticity in there because that’s how I’m feeling in the moment. We all, our moods swing. Sometimes we’re in a really great mood and other times we’re in a mood that’s not as great, but we still have to do our job. When we show up in front of an audience, we need to understand the role that we’re playing. We’re always going to bring the best parts of ourselves. We’re going to amplify the parts of ourselves that are most effective in that environment in order to achieve the goal. So, that’s me talking.

Michael:
Now, I want to go to you and talk about how you see authenticity, just this concept that’s bandied about, and then what authenticity means to you as a speaker.

Ann:
I think authenticity in a marketing context is just confusing, and I think in a business context is just confusing. And I think you just articulated that so well. Because if we’re telling people to be authentic, that means that, as you said, that I would show up for this podcast with you today, saying, “Listen, I have a lot of other stuff that I have to do this afternoon. I almost canceled this, but, okay, let’s do it.”

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
Literally, that was my mindset coming into this.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
But that’s not respectful to you, and it’s not respectful to the audience, and, frankly, it doesn’t matter. I think authenticity is not so much about you. It’s about showing your personality and your point of view to the audience, to the people who you are trying to attract. I think where businesses get hung up with authenticity is that they forget that there’s a difference between personal and personality. They think that authenticity means that they should be personal, so personal would be, listen, I have a lot of stuff going on today. Like you just said, I don’t want to be here right now. The kids gave me a hard time, whatever the case may be. No one cares. That’s authentic, sure, but it’s personal.

Ann:
Authentic with personality, I think, is a little bit different. That means that you are shifting your focus away from you, from the personal, and just using your personality to connect with the people you want to connect with. That’s how I think about authenticity, not just as a speaker, as a marketer, but also just as a business.

Michael:
It’s interesting. When I came up as an actor, I never heard the word authentic used in any sophisticated acting training program or on set or in the theater, et cetera. What we always talked about was honesty, which is very, very different in the world of performing, because if you’re performing and you know what your objective is, and if you know what your objective is, then you can play actions that influence how people feel and think, and then, of course, what they do.

Michael:
The audiences generally connect to you when they feel that you’re honest with them. And then, of course, the honesty that you’re bringing to the performance or to the experience that you have with that audience is about things that are relevant to them, which is one of the reasons that people love Tom Hanks so much as a performer or Meryl Streep as a performer because when they’re performing, they’re very honest performers. When they are having an emotional experience as a performer, they’re not pretending to have an emotional experience. They’re actually having that experience, so it’s honest.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
But it’s a manufactured situation, so it’s not … I wouldn’t call it authentic, because it’s on celluloid if it’s … Well, it’s not celluloid anymore, but it’s digital pixels when it’s on the screen now. It’s completely manufactured, but what you’re getting is an honest expression from the performers, and that’s what you connect to. And the reason that you often don’t connect to certain things like soap operas or other types of shows that may not have that level of honesty is because you don’t believe it. The believing is the key, and the honesty is what helps with … It gives the audience an opportunity to believe you. To us, it’s different than authenticity. Mow maybe it’s just semantics, but honesty I think is crucial as long as everything that you’re being honest about is relevant, important, interesting, and meaningful to the audience.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I like that a lot.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
You said that people learn more when they’re having fun.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
And you are known for your humor onstage. I haven’t had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with you outside of business, but I have a feeling you’re a lot of fun. At least this is the word on the street. You have this bit about the marketing genius behind the Boyfriend Pillow. Apparently, the pillow has a fake arm that’s attached for optimal snuggling-

Ann:
Yes.

Michael:
… without the downsides of a real person, which I think is really cute. Was this always the case for you, to lean into humor? And is this something that comes naturally to you or is it something that you’ve worked on over the years?

Ann:
Yes. I mean, that’s the short answer. Yes, it comes naturally to me to some degree, but, yes, I’ve also worked at it over the years. It actually segues beautifully with the last conversation or the last bit that we were just talking about, about honesty, because I think when you’re able to show up with your honest self onstage and you’re able to let that show, you don’t let fear stop you from showing who you honestly are, then I think that it’s easier. It’s the groundwork you need for humor. It’s the groundwork you need to connect with the audience in a way that’s actually meaningful to them.

Ann:
Yes, the idea of using humor onstage. And the story of that Boyfriend Body Pillow, by the way, I haven’t talked about it a lot onstage, but it’s part of, it’s an example that I show because if you look at the early iterations of how they marketed that pillow, it was all about how it was more from a corporate standpoint. Looking at this pillow, which literally is a pillow with one arm that’s kind of curved … I wish this was a video because I’m actually doing it right now, where I’ve got my arm out at a 45-degree angle.

Michael:
Send us a picture and-

Ann:
I will.

Michael:
… we’ll put it on the show notes. How about that? Send us a [crosstalk 00:26:15].

Ann:
That’s a great idea.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
It’s an exercise that I walk an audience through of thinking about your marketing from a product standpoint or from a corporate standpoint, which is to look at this Boyfriend Body Pillow and just talk about its attributes as opposed to what the audience or the customer would care about, which is the fact that it’s snuggy and you can snuggle into that crooked arm without all the annoyances of an actual guy. Right?

Michael:
Exactly. I feel like I resemble that remark in some way [crosstalk 00:26:52].

Ann:
They also have a female version of it.

Michael:
Oh, yeah.

Ann:
There’s a Girlfriend Body Pillow as well.

Michael:
Yeah. I don’t know about that.

Ann:
Yeah. No, of course.

Michael:
I don’t want to go there. Where do you find your funny? And how can people … See, here’s the thing about humor, which is I see, it’s sad to me, frankly, because so many folks that we’ve met over the years, they say to us, “Oh, I’m not funny.” They say, “I’m not funny. I can’t be funny. I’m not funny.” We say, “Why do you think you’re not funny?” Say, “Well, I’ve been told I’m not funny.” Oh, okay, well, that’s the problem because if we listen to every single person who gave us some negative feedback, we probably wouldn’t do much in life.

Ann:
That’s right.

Michael:
I would imagine. It’s interesting. I might say, “Well, do you laugh? Do you find things funny?” They say, “Well, of course I find things funny.” Say, “Do you laugh a lot?” They say, “Yeah, I laugh a lot.” Well, then, you have a sense of humor, and if you have a sense of humor, then you can share that sense of humor in such a way that other people will laugh. It may take a little practice. It may take a little courage because it means that you might need to try some things which are initially slightly uncomfortable for you, but if you get comfortable with that discomfort of trying new things and sort of, as you say, poking your nose out, and I’m going to get there in a minute. That’s a little foreshadowing. But if you poke your nose out into the funny, every once in a while you’ll get a little dirt on your nose or you’ll bump your nose on something, but you’ll start to see that you can do it, too. How do you think people who don’t see themselves as funny can make their speeches more fun?

Ann:
Yeah. I think that’s the key. I think funny is hard to go for. I mean, I think as a goal, for example. I never start a new speech or I never step on a stage thinking I’m going to be funny. This is going to be hilarious. Instead, my goal is always just to be accessible and as part of my accessibility, I want to make it fun because, as you said, when I’m trying to connect with an audience, I think that people do learn when they’re having fun. If I were to hold a bayonet to your gut and say, “This is going to be a great speech,” no one’s going to react to that. Instead, I want people to … I want them to have fun. I want them to feel engaged, and the way to do that and my way to do that is to make them laugh. But I never go for the laugh. I always just go for being accessible first and to do that through a fun example.

Ann:
That’s where the Boyfriend Body Pillow came from, because it’s a ridiculous example. And every single marketer in that room is … I’ve never spoken to the Boyfriend Body Pillow Convention, for example. That’s not a thing, I don’t think. Although if it is [crosstalk 00:29:58].

Michael:
Although there’s a convention for pretty much everything.

Ann:
That’s true. I’ve never-

Michael:
In the early 2000s, I spoke for a balloon twisting association.

Ann:
Oh, wow.

Michael:
Yeah. And then it went so well that I got two calls that next week to speak at two more associations for balloon twisters. They make the little …

Ann:
Yeah, yeah.

Michael:
Yeah, little hot dog dogs and little hats for the kid.

Ann:
Who was in the audience? Clowns?

Michael:
Well, no, not actually dressed as clowns.

Ann:
Were they dressed in full costume?

Michael:
No, but there were actually many of them that were wearing full balloon costumes.

Ann:
Oh, wow.

Michael:
There was one guy that was a transformer made out of balloons. It was actually pretty extraordinary. I was really impressed. Now I very respectfully said no to the other two balloon twisting conferences, because at that time, I didn’t really want to be the balloon twisting guy. But there is a conference for everything. I think we’re going to do a little research and find out about this Boyfriend Pillow Conference. You’re going to keynote that conference next year.

Ann:
Oh, yeah. Heck, yeah. Just to go back to the language thing, is that how they actually describe themselves, as balloon twisters?

Michael:
There’s a couple different. Sometimes they call themselves balloon artists.

Ann:
Oh, yeah, yeah. That would fit [crosstalk 00:31:11].

Michael:
I think that’s the higher, little higher end.

Ann:
Latex crafters? No, that’s probably something different.

Michael:
Oh, my god, you’re so naughty. Okay, listen. I mentioned poke your nose out. You said that one of your keys to success is to poke your nose out. What do you mean by that?

Ann:
Can I go back to that-

Michael:
Oh, yeah.

Ann:
… answering that question for a second.

Michael:
Sure.

Ann:
When you asked about humor anyway. As I was saying, I think go for fun. But the other thing is when people think that they’re not funny, I think that people think of funny, they [inaudible 00:31:48] jokes, like, “I can’t tell a joke.” Honestly, I can’t tell a joke either. But what I can do is point out the absurdity in life, and I think when you start noticing those moments and you share them with other people, that’s what so many great comedians do, what so many great comics do. They’re pointing out the crazy moments in life. The Boyfriend Body Pillow is an example of that. This balloon twisters conversation is an example of that. There are sort of these absurd moments in life that I think when you aerate them a little bit, and especially if you tease it out to its logical conclusion, you could build a whole bit around being onstage in front of balloon twisters and maybe something crazy that happens.

Michael:
Oh, yeah.

Ann:
I think that’s where humor … Humor is grounded in truth, and when you tease that to an even more absurd degree, I think it just becomes hilarious. The question then is I think humor is … So it’s grounded in truth, but also then tell the story around it. Work on your storytelling or work on your timing. Give a story room to give it oxygen, give it room to aerate in the room. All of those things I think are the basis of humor in a speech. We could do a whole talk about, a whole segment about just that. But I think all of those components can make you funny. Look for those absurd moments. Learn how to tell a story around it. Learn how to tell a story with an audience in mind so you’re leading them sort of on a journey, so that you’re ratcheting up the absurdity as you go along. That’s a lot of what I do.

Michael:
Speaking of latex, the Balloon Twisters Association was actually only the second quirkiest conference that I ever spoke at. The first was Athena’s Home Novelties.

Ann:
Mmm.

Michael:
Mmm. I actually was assigned a chaperone for protection when I got there.

Ann:
Really?

Michael:
Yeah. That’s a hundred percent true.

Ann:
Wow.

Michael:
It was a great conference, but it was pretty quirky.

Ann:
I got to say my favorite transition in this entire conversation has been, speaking of latex.

Michael:
Well, I mean, there’s a lot to talk about.

Ann:
All right. Sorry. I just derailed your interview. This is you, not me.

Michael:
No. This is you. This is what you get when you get Ann Handley, the best. You can’t go wrong. You really can’t. Let’s talk about poking your nose out.

Ann:
All right.

Michael:
Okay. What do you mean by that? And why is it important to poke your nose out?

Ann:
The poke your nose out analogy comes from when I was learning to drive. I had this grump of an instructor, and like any new driver, you’re sitting behind the wheel. The driving instructor is sitting in the passenger seat. And we were at an intersection, and I was incredibly hesitant, coming out like a new driver. There’s cars going every which direction. I’m getting increasingly sort of agitated. And finally, this grump of an instructor just said to me, “Oh, for god’s sake, will you just poke your nose out. You’re never going to get anywhere until you poke your nose out.” For some reason, that phrase just kind of stuck with me. Going back to language for a second, that’s the language of driving instructors, I guess, is like, “For god’s sakes, poke your nose out.”

Ann:
I think of that all the time as an analogy to when you want something. When i was a kid and I thought I wanted to be a writer, I thought I wanted to write fiction for a long time, and I thought at some point, I’ll just keep writing and writing and writing. And I’ll keep sharing it with my neighbors, and at some point, somebody will notice. But that’s not how life works. You’ve got to poke your nose out. You have to be the one to advocate for yourself. You’ve got to make those opportunities happen. And not in a really obnoxious kind of way. I do think there are moments when you should poke your nose out and moments when you shouldn’t because you’re not quite ready. But I think you’ve got to tee yourself up for success by poking your nose out a little bit at a time along the way toward your goal, whatever that goal may be.

Michael:
How do you think newer speakers can poke their nose out in order to book more gigs?

Ann:
Oh, man, just say yes to so many, any opportunity that comes your way. At the very beginning of my speaking career … And I don’t have a long speaking career. I only go back about 10 years or so. And the reason I started speaking, the reason why I sort of forced myself out from behind a screen just writing to being onstage and sharing my stories onstage was because I published a book. And so the dirty secret, as you know, Michael, of when you publish a book is that you go from being a writer to trading that for a salesman hat. You go from thinking of yourself as a smug writer to just getting out there and selling the book, selling the ideas behind it. And so I was kind of forced into that role. That was that transition. That was only 10 years ago when I published Content Rules, my first book.

Ann:
At that opportunity, I spoke. If someone would ask me, I would just go for it, so I said yes to everything, which is just such a great way, I think, to get that confidence. Every gig you do, you figure out what works, what doesn’t, and just to sort of evolve your own style, to evolve your own speech. So saying yes to everything, but then also seeking out those opportunities that really will be good fits for you. I know that my best audience is a content marketing audience, because that’s where I started. Those are my people. Not just saying yes to every single thing, but also going after those, at the time, those content marketing audiences and saying, “I have a relevant message for you. Here’s what I want to bring to your audience.” That’s the poking your nose out piece of it, but then also staying open to opportunities.

Michael:
Yeah. I just had a thought that I wanted to mention. I had this thought when we were talking just a little bit earlier about finding humor in your speeches. I was thinking, “Gosh, I wonder if people who want to find more humor in their speeches actually take the time to watch comedy, to really study people who use humor on a daily basis.” And that made me think of you as a writer, and I thought, very often, people will say, “I want to write a book.” I might ask, “Okay, what kind of books do you read?” And sometimes they look at me like I’m a little crazy, “What do you mean?” I say, “No, no. What are you reading now?” They say, “Well, nothing right now.” “What did you read this year?” “Well, I kind of skimmed through this.” “What did you read last year?” “Well, not so much.”

Michael:
And I think that if you’re seriously pursuing a particular discipline like speaking or writing or anything, really, I think you’d be hard pressed to produce something really remarkable unless you’re steeped in that world in some way, meaning if you don’t read, how do you know how to write a book? If you don’t watch regularly really great performers, how do you study performance?

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
Because just sort of haphazardly going through the world and hoping you’ll start to identify what is effective in the medium that you’d like to be in just means you kind of got to get lucky.

Ann:
Yes. That’s so true. Yeah. I mean, that’s why I worked with you at HPS, right? Because I think I worked with you, what, twice?

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
Is it twice I’ve worked with you?

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
I learned an enormous amount just not only by watching you, but watching some of the other speakers who were part of our group, seeing what worked for them and how you coached them. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I think it’s about observing what is working with others, but then also getting the instruction you need. There’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in finding great instructors to work with and at various points in your career. Early on, like 10 years ago, when I mentioned, I had a lot of trouble just thinking about putting together a presentation, how do I structure this? And I knew that the structure would be very important to a speech because I knew from writing, that structure is very important to writing. Right?

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
And so how do I actually translate that? I hired a speaking coach who really excelled more in the crafting of the speech itself and sort of helped me think through the components of it, and then taught me that language, gave me a sort of structure for how to put a talk together that’s an hour long. That was enormously helpful to me. She was great at one point in my career, 10 years ago, but then as I grew as a performer, as I grew as a speaker, then just finding, seeking out those people who can be good partners for you at the point you need them I think is really important. Had I worked with you and Amy 10 years ago, it probably wouldn’t have been as effective for me at that time because that’s not what I needed. I needed something that was so small and very specific around that. Maybe you do do that, but that really worked for me at the time.

Michael:
Yeah, sure.

Ann:
I think finding those people who can really help you at various points in your career is equally as important.

Michael:
IBM named you one of the seven people shaping modern marketing.

Ann:
I know. It’s crazy, huh?

Michael:
Wow.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
And I’m talking to you. That’s incredible.

Ann:
Did you already talk to the other six? I’m just [crosstalk 00:41:57].

Michael:
Yeah. Well, they weren’t available.

Ann:
Yeah, yeah.

Michael:
I couldn’t get them, which is [crosstalk 00:42:00].

Ann:
No. That’s good. That’s good.

Michael:
But what marketing tools can be applied to the speaking industry, and how can speakers use them to up-level their careers? I want to just preface this because I’m sure people who are repeat listeners have heard me say I don’t think new speakers should focus on trying to move the market. They should focus on producing a speech that moves the market because gigs get you gigs.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
And there are certainly things we can do to position ourselves effectively and try to build our brand identity and build an audience, et cetera. Let’s just assume that we’re really working diligently on creating a speech that people people want to see and that they will refer to other people. Now let’s just say that’s in place. What should we be doing from a marketing perspective? If you’re looking back at your career, what are some of the things that you did that worked for you on the marketing side?

Ann:
Yeah. I mean, for me, I think it’s always been all about platform and just picking your platforms that work well with you and your personality so that you can show up as your most authentic, honest self. I think that’s important.

Michael:
God forbid.

Ann:
God forbid, I know. I didn’t do that initially. As I said, I sort of came to this speaking component of my career maybe later than most people, because, again, I never saw myself as that, but it turns out I’m good at it and I love it and all those things. I didn’t work as hard on developing my platform, so I wish I had done that. I think I could have gotten here a little bit faster. Maybe I would have offered a book sooner than I did and I would have done a few things differently.

Ann:
But I think just figuring out what your platform is. And this is going to sound super tactical, but I’m going to say it anyway because I think it’s so important. I think every single person, if you are a speaker, a writer, a creative of any kind, you’ve got to have an email newsletter, which sounds so basic and so tactical, but I think it’s so important for two reasons. Number one, because when we think about building our platforms, we tend to think about platforms that are owned by others.

Ann:
For example, social media, Facebook or Instagram or LinkedIn or Twitter, any of those things, that’s all great, but, of course, you don’t own any of that, so essentially you’re building your house on rented land, which we know. But also, we’re increasingly victim to the algorithm, and email is the only place where people and not algorithms are in control. When someone subscribes to hear from you, they want to hear from you. They’re not just firing up Facebook or they’re not just opening up LinkedIn and they happen to see you floating by there.

Ann:
I focus so much on the email newsletter because I just think it’s the way that … First of all, you own that database and you own that relationship, but you’re also showing up as you. So when people sign up and they see your email come into their inbox, they’re seeing you, and that’s a really important opportunity as an artist. Again, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a speaker, a writer, a performer, it doesn’t matter. It’s that they’re seeing you as a person, and I think that is such an undervalued moment. We tend to think of email as our distribution strategy, and really, we should be thinking of it as this opportunity that we have to connect directly with one other person in their inbox. I think a lot of us are not really embracing that opportunity, and so that’s why I get on a soap box of tactical, but I think it’s very, very important.

Michael:
I have to say I really have a personal satisfaction when I hear that because I went into business in 2003, and at that time, of course, there were no social media platforms of note and everything was the email newsletter. That was it. We focused on building subscriber bases of people that wanted to talk, wanted to hear from us. And then when Twitter, Facebook popped up, the social media folks started to build big presences on those platforms.

Michael:
I remember there was this sort of thing that the social media folks would kind of poo-poo the marketers that used email marketing, saying email marketing is dead. It’s a low form of marketing. You have to be on social because social’s where the connections are, et cetera, et cetera. It’s two-way communication, blah, blah, blah. And I thought, “Well, I get all that. Makes sense. Okay, I’ll get some of these platforms.” But we never deviated from our email newsletter focus.

Michael:
And then in probably the last, gosh, what is it, maybe six, seven years, a lot of friends who moved into the space when social media became a big to-do, were coming back and saying, “All right, listen. I realized I can’t sell anything through social media. Having a real hard time actually monetizing the people that are following me. How do I build a newsletter list?” I remember having that moment of personal satisfaction where I went … No, I’m not going to be that person. No, that’s beneath me. But I did honestly have a little bit of that moment. And now, still, going into 2020, to hear one of the seven people shaping modern marketing to say, “Listen, make sure you’re building that communication channel through email” is pretty interesting.

Ann:
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, don’t get me wrong. I love social media.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
Instagram is probably my favorite social media platform. I have 400,000 followers on Twitter. I mean, it’s not a small thing.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
But that said, I still think that the email newsletter is where I get the most satisfaction, and frankly, it drives the most leads for my business, my speaking and writing business, but also for on the other side of my life for MarketingProfs. I think the email newsletter is massively undervalued. I started my own email newsletter not for MarketingProfs, just for my own Ann Handley speaking and writing, I started my own email newsletter just, what is it, January of 2018? Almost two years ago. Over two years, it’s grown to, I’m just over 22,000 subscribers, which is …

Michael:
That’s pretty good in two years.

Ann:
It’s great.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
I’m very gratified by that. But more importantly, it’s just become a really important vehicle for me creatively. It’s like my favorite thing I do, and I love everything I do.

Michael:
That’s cool.

Ann:
If I don’t love it, I don’t do it.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
It’s my favorite thing that I do, but it’s also just such a great way for me to keep in touch with people. I love when people write back to me, and they do that with my own email newsletter. They hit Respond-

Michael:
Yes. Yes.

Ann:
… and they write back directly to me, and I love that. And I solicit that, I want that. Also, by the way, just from a deliverability perspective, it’s really good when people do that.

Michael:
Ah, yes. Right.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
Absolutely. It’s interesting. Last year I got an offer from another brand in the industry to purchase … They wanted to buy my Book Yourself Solid brand, which is the brand that I focused first decade on. And it was a decent offer, and certainly they wanted the assets and they wanted the goodwill that the brand has in the marketplace, but I-

Ann:
Did they want you or just the brand?

Michael:
Well, they wanted me initially to help with the transition. But what I found through the negotiation process is that about half of the value that they were assigning was directly related to the newsletter subscribers.

Ann:
Oh, interesting.

Michael:
They wanted those subscribers. They were willing to pay a premium to get the brand and the assets of the brand, the intellectual property assets of the brand, but they weren’t interested in all of that without the list.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
And so if I didn’t have that kind of newsletter list associated with those intellectual property assets, I don’t think they’d be interested if it was, if I just had a big Twitter following or a LinkedIn following. I think that made a big difference to them, and it was an actual saleable asset. Now I wasn’t going to sell the asset without the intellectual property, meaning I wouldn’t sell the list just so someone can then take it and spam them with something else, but it would go with the assets. But it was really pretty clear to me that I think without that list, they probably wouldn’t have been that interested even in the intellectual property, which has a great reputation and sells well.

Ann:
Right. The lesson in there is that if it’s an asset to another company, then why aren’t we thinking about it as a key asset. Again, not as a distribution strategy, not as, like what we want to say, it’s not about talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. Right?

Michael:
Yeah. Correct.

Ann:
It’s about how do we actually use it to nurture a relationship with the people who are most important to us.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
The people who are subscribers. I think it’s massively invaluable, really.

Michael:
Now you’re a partner in MarketingProfs, right?

Ann:
Correct. Yeah.

Michael:
And you put on one of the biggest marketing conferences in the world, I think. Would you agree with that?

Ann:
I don’t think it’s in the world, but is it the best in the world? Absolutely.

Michael:
There we go. In my world, it’s the-

Ann:
In your world, it’s outsized. Yeah.

Michael:
It’s outsized. It’s huge. It’s the biggest. It’s tremendous. It’s massive. You have also a unique perspective because you’re a speaker who is getting paid to travel all over the world to speak at other people’s events, but you also put on a very, very big event that is very unique, and I think that anybody that has any association with marketing should be going to MarketingProfs. But you put on that conference. You produce that conference. You pick the speakers for that conference.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
And you do something different every year with it.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
What are some of the key things that you look for when you are looking for the speakers that you’re going to put on the stage?

Ann:
It depends on if we’re talking about keynotes or if we’re talking about session breakout speakers. The event is-

Michael:
Let’s talk about both.

Ann:
Okay. The event is the MarketingProfs B2B Forum. And thank you for that generous description. It’s about a thousand B2B marketers. Right now, it’s kind of bouncing around the country a little bit. It was just in D.C. Was it last month? Yeah, last month. Gosh, I’m trying to think about what month this is. Then next year, it’ll be November 3rd through the 6th in San Francisco, so we’re back on the West Coast.

Ann:
In terms of what I look for, really, it’s about the message. If you’re a session .. Well, actually, in either case of it, either session or a breakout speaker, it’s always about the message. It’s about crafting or showing up with a message that the audience needs to hear. Does it feel compelling for what’s going on in business-to-business marketing right now? First of all, is what you share of value to the audience? Will they get something out of it? Are you articulate in exactly what they will get out of it? When we put out a call for speakers, that’s sort of the first thing we look at.

Ann:
And then the next thing we look at is how do you deliver it? First, it’s what you say and then how you say it. Are you delivering in a way that’s compelling? Is it fun, as we talked about today? Do you mention latex at all? Is there anywhere? That’s the trigger word for me.

Michael:
Is that the litmus test for you?

Ann:
Yeah. I look for the word latex in the description, basically what it comes down to. No, are you able to deliver it in an engaging way? Show us a video. Show us how you actually will present this material. I think with the breakout speakers, when we put out the call for speakers, we get hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, and we look for the message and then we look for the what and then we look for the how.

Ann:
With keynotes, it’s a little bit different. I mean, I handpick those people. I look for the what with them, of course. But I also am looking for sort of mix of people, voices who haven’t been heard before or maybe who haven’t been heard by our audience or who have something to say that’s unique for our audience. Do they have a new message? And it’s not just about B2B marketing. I think one of the things that makes our event different and unique and more of an experience to be at is that, yeah, we talk about B2B marketing and we talk about account-based marketing and email and social and all the things, all the components of a marketing program in 2019 or 2020. But we also want to look at the whole marketers. We really seek to feed the career of the person who’s attending that event.

Michael:
Oh, nice.

Ann:
Yeah. One of the things that I look for is, yeah, absolutely, do they have a connection to marketing in some way? But then more broadly, is there a keynote speaker, for example, who can really speak to a different dimension of the marketer? A specific example of that is our mutual friend Neen, right? Neen James-

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
… came this year. She doesn’t typically speak to marketing audiences, and I love that. That’s a strength.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
She was kind of unknown to a lot of the people in our audience, which I loved. What she says and the way she delivers it is amazing, but really what she talks about is systems of attention. And so that applies, of course, to marketing, but it also applies more broadly in so many different areas of our lives. That’s just one example of the kind of person who I think is a really good fit for our audience, because, yes, there’s a marketing message there, but it also lends itself more broadly to how we’re living, how we’re showing up, and kind of how we’re, yeah, just how we’re walking through this world.

Michael:
Speaking of people who are not known to your audience, how important is celebrity in your decision-making process for your keynotes?

Ann:
Pretty close to zero I think. First of all, I can’t afford to get Tina Fey, although I would love, love, love, love to have Tina Fey at my event.

Michael:
Oh, I’ll call her for you. I’m [crosstalk 00:57:14].

Ann:
Could you?

Michael:
Yeah, mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ann:
Holy wow.

Michael:
Yeah, right. I can’t promise she’s going to return my call, but yeah.

Ann:
Yeah. She’s-

Michael:
She’s incredible.

Ann:
Oh, man, I just-

Michael:
To me, she’s one in a generation. She’s extraordinary.

Ann:
Yeah, she really is extraordinary. I mean, I don’t have the budget for Tina. And honestly, I don’t think it matters for our audience as much, in part because we are such a different and sort of unique audience. Just based on all the things that I just mentioned to you, I don’t know that Tina would actually be a great fit even if I could afford her.

Michael:
Actually, she actually has a house near us here-

Ann:
I know.

Michael:
… where we live. This is what you’re going to do. You’re going to fly out.

Ann:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Michael:
I know exactly where her house is. We’re just going to go knock on the door.

Ann:
Okay.

Michael:
You are so charming-

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
… that she’s just going to say, “Yes, absolutely I’ll do this. And you don’t even have to pay me, because I have so much money, it’s just not even necessary.”

Ann:
I did meet her once, by the way. I had sort of a meet-and-greet situation with her, and I had the biggest Liz Lemon moment because … You’ve been in those situations where you’re doing a meet-and-greet backstage. They have this sort of area that’s cordoned off and you file in one by one. It’s kind of a turn and grin at the camera and keep going.

Michael:
Sure.

Ann:
That was the situation with Tina. And so I had the biggest smile on my face when we sort of turned and grinned at the camera, but what I had neglected to realize that I had some blue gum in the side of my mouth. So I’ve got this giant grin on my face with a wad of gum. It’s like, oh, what a beautiful picture. What is that? I thought, what is this like, so beautiful.

Michael:
You could have [inaudible 00:58:52] it.

Ann:
I knew I could have Photoshopped it out, but I actually love the fact that it’s in there.

Michael:
[inaudible 00:58:55].

Ann:
It’s honest, right?

Michael:
Yeah, it’s perfect. If you have that photo and you are willing to share it, I would-

Ann:
Oh, I’m on Instagram. [crosstalk 00:58:02].

Michael:
Yeah. I would love to put that in our show notes, too. Because that’s just fantastic.

Ann:
It’s the best. She did tell me, by the way, that .. She’s, “Oh, I like your dress.” And I said, “Oh, I like yours.” To me, that’s the kind of conversation that best friends have, so we’re basically best friends.

Michael:
Actually, sometimes I refer to Ron Tite as the Jon Stewart of the speaking industry, even, of course, he’s not doing politics. But I think you’re the Tina Fey of the speaking industry.

Ann:
Oh, my gosh. You just made my day.

Michael:
Yeah. You can put that right on the front of your website, “Michael Port says I’m the Tina Fey of the speaking industry.”

Ann:
Could I? No, seriously, I’m going to do that.

Michael:
Yeah, absolutely. I think you are a hundred … That’s a perfect description of you. It’s perfect. Well, another note here. No, I don’t want to ask that question.

Ann:
You really did your homework, by the way. I’m slightly anxious every time you introduce a new topic.

Michael:
Right.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
This one is actually the most personal and the most intrusive, invasive question of all. No, in all seriousness, your logo is your glasses with brackets around your glasses.

Ann:
Uh-huh.

Michael:
And it’s adorable and it’s fun and it’s cute, and I don’t really understand it, but I think it’s great. And I want to know what you think it says.

Ann:
Oh, man. I would like to say that it’s been so intentional. Here’s the story with that. My son is an artist.

Michael:
Oh, cool.

Ann:
Yeah. And he drew the glasses, and it’s the front … Those glasses are on the front page of, I’m sorry, on the cover of Everybody Writes, my last book.

Michael:
Yeah.

Ann:
And the brackets are lifted from the cover design of my last book because the subtitle is bracketed like that. That is the God’s honest truth. I should have a better answer for that. It’s the sort of thing where I’m in the middle of the site redesign and we sort of need an icon. I need a logo and it’s like, “Sure, let’s just do that because here we go.” And that’s a really bad answer, but that’s the truth.

Michael:
No, but I actually asked you that specifically because I had a feeling it may be something like that.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
And even if you had some brilliant answer, “Well, we thought it would be because people will see through deeply to the real issues at hand.”

Ann:
Yeah. Lovely. And because I am particularly insightful, I’ll give your organization 20/20 vision, something like that. If I should come up with something like that.

Michael:
Yes, well, and pathological empathy.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
Around latex.

Ann:
Yeah. I guess.

Michael:
No, but I wanted to know because I just wanted to demonstrate that even somebody who has been named by IBM as one of the seven people shaping modern marketing, sometimes just goes with the feeling.

Ann:
Yeah.

Michael:
Like, oh, I like that. It’s cute. I feel like it represents me. I’m not sure exactly what it says, but it does represent me in a way that I’m comfortable with, and it works wonderfully.

Ann:
Yeah, yeah. And my son drew it, and so I feel a warmth and I feel personally connected to it. That’s basically what it is. It’s funny to me because when I published Everybody Writes and the glasses were on the front, and I got two comments. One, “This is like a Malcolm Gladwell book because it’s white with one icon in the center.”

Michael:
Oh, yeah. Sure.

Ann:
Which is in my case a pair of glasses. But the second thing was, “What do glasses have to do with writing? Is it a book about reading or is it a book about writing?” So I said yes.

Michael:
Yes.

Ann:
I don’t know. Honestly, I think sometimes in marketing, we tend to overthink a lot, and I probably should have put a little bit more thought into that icon, but I haven’t.

Michael:
Well, look, people compare your book to Malcolm Gladwell’s books, but if you look at Steal the Show and you hold it up next to The Cat in the Hat, you’ll see it looks exactly like the cover of The Cat in the Hat. I think your comparisons are a little bit more highbrow than mine. Let’s go there.

Michael:
Last question. Last question, if I may.

Ann:
Yes.

Michael:
If you could travel back in time to the moment before you took the stage for the first time, what would you say to yourself?

Ann:
Oh, boy. I’ve written about this moment, actually. That’s the very first time I took the stage. I was so terrified, and I’ve written about this exact moment where my heart was beating so loudly that I could hear it in my ears. You know that moment when you are just so, like every neuron is firing at such an oversized just moment. It was just really crazy. My heart was beating so loud that I could hear it in my ears, and I thought that I was having an aneurysm. I thought, “I am going to die right here onstage.” What I would tell myself is, “You are not going to die. In fact, that you are going to do better than you think you will. You’re going to have more fun than you think you will, and it’s just going to get better from here.” And that’s exactly what happened.

Michael:
You’re the best, Ann Handley. Where can people find you and your glasses?

Ann:
Oh, boy. They can go to annhandley.com. If you want to hear from me on a regular basis, I publish my email newsletter every other week, and that’s at annhandley.com/newsletter. And if you sign up, please send me a note and let me know that you are also a friend of Michael’s.

Michael:
I’ll tell you, there’s a couple of people that I suggest everybody follow if they are really interested in assuming a leadership role in this community. One of them, of course, is our dear friend Andrew Davis. Another is Ron Tite. And one of the others is you.

Ann:
Thank you.

Michael:
And I think you … First of all, you’re a fantastic speaker. I think your content is absolutely spot on, really second to none. But it’s not just your ability to deliver that I think is admirable. It’s who you are and how you show up in the world that I think is most admirable and worthy of our attention. I think if we all learn from you and Ron and Andrew and we follow your lead in terms of the way that you treated people, took care of people, I think we’d just be in a better place. So, thank you for that.

Ann:
Oh, thank you. That’s so nice.

Michael:
Everybody who’s listening, please make sure to follow Ann’s career and her work. Sign up for her newsletter. Read her books. Follow her on LinkedIn, Twitter, wherever she is because you’ll learn an enormous amount from her. So, thank you so much for being here.

Ann:
Oh, thank you so much. That was really generous, so thank you.

Michael:
Thanks for listening to Steal the Show. I’m your host, Michael Port. We record our episodes at Heroic Public Speaking HQ. Thanks for listening and learning how to be a performer in you spotlight moment. Make sure to reach out to us on Instagram and Facebook at Heroic Public Speaking and leave us a review on iTunes if you like the show. Until next time, keep thinking big about who you are and how you see the world. Bye for now.

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