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Would you like to learn the science behind deciphering non-verbal cues and performing in high stress situations? Listen in as Award Winning Professor Michael Bernstein discusses how you can improve your communication skills with non-verbal cues.

Michael Bernstein is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Penn State Abington. He received a National Science Foundation grant, and won several Penn State accolades, such as the Faculty Senate Scholar award, Faculty Senate Outstanding Teaching award, and the Public Scholar award.

Michael is also published and cited widely in psychology journals. He consults for Procter & Gamble and many other cooperate and non-profit organizations. He is the co-director and co-founder of ACCESS, which connects businesses and communities with faculty and student researchers.

You can email Michael Bernstein and learn more about his work and his organization ACCESS.

  • What is non-verbal communication. (1:40)
  • Why understanding non-verbal cues can be very important. (9:43)
  • What to do when you assume your message is not well received, judging by your audience’s body language. (13:00)
  • How to overcome objections and get audience buy-in. (15:42)
  • Why rejections can be difficult, and how can you learn to handle it. (19:06)
  • How to let go the “Impostor Syndrome” and perform with confidence. (26:46)
  • The difference between the performance voice and the conversation voice. (36:47)
  • How to naturally pick up on non-verbal cues from your audience. (55:28)
  • How you can use non-verbals in your speech effectively. (1:10:42)

0:00:01 Michael Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. Today’s guest is also named Michael, which will help me remember his name. His last name, fortunately, is different, it’s Bernstein and he is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Penn State Abington. He received a National Science Foundation grant, and won several Penn State accolades, such as the Faculty Senate Scholar award, Faculty Senate Outstanding Teaching award and the Public Scholar award, all before earning tenure last year. That’s pretty cool. The graduating class of 2014 chose Michael as the Penn State Abington “Lion Heart.” That’s pretty cool, the Lion Heart award recipient. We’ll see what’s that’s actually for. He’s published and cited widely in psychology journals, consults for Procter & Gamble, among other cooperate and non-profit organisations, and is the co-director and co-founder of ACCESS, which connects businesses and communities with faculty and student researchers. Welcome Michael.

0:01:08 Michael Bernstein: Hi Michael, thanks for having me.

0:01:09 Michael Port: Oh, you’re welcome. What is the Lion Heart award?

0:01:13 Michael Bernstein: The Lion Heart award is an award that the graduating class nominates a professor for, and it’s supposed to award faculty members who inspire students… [chuckle]

0:01:28 Michael Port: Basically, you’re the coolest teacher?

0:01:30 Michael Bernstein: Well, I paid a lot of people to make sure that… I spread the money around.

0:01:34 Michael Port: Excellent way to drive a campaign. Good, good, good marketer. So you’re a social scientist?

0:01:40 Michael Bernstein: Yes.

0:01:40 Michael Port: A behavioural expert. And I am bringing you here because you have academic credentials, and not just pop psychology, ideas about how people behave. And one of your areas of expertise is non-verbals. In the world of public speaking, non-verbals is a big topic of teaching, and of course, it is such an important part of communication. However, non-verbals are often thought of or taught as tricks, “Here’s what you do with your hands to make people feel this,” or, “here’s what you should do when somebody’s talking to you, so you make them feel this.” As opposed to understanding how we communicate using our bodies, and how other people communicate using their bodies, and being very authentic about it. So, from your perspective, what are non-verbals?

0:02:50 Michael Bernstein: Sure, so this is also even within the field of social psychology, which is the sub-discipline of psychology that I’m a part of, this is a major area of study. Communication basically happens in two ways, the things that we control and what we say, that’s verbal communication, and then there’s non-verbal communication, which is what we do with our bodies, but also how we say things and what our physical situation is when we are communicating with another. So if you think about any type of communication that isn’t in person, whether it be on a podcast, or whether it be through text messaging or emails, those are now eliminating all non-verbals and we also know these are more difficult forms of communication for people to understand, because you’re missing out on all of these non-verbal cues, what people are doing with their bodies.

0:03:37 Michael Port: Sure, so this is interesting, you’re actually the first guest that I have in studio. We’re sitting across the table from each other, which is different. Usually, I’m taking notes, or gazing out the window, not that I’m distracted, but I’m doing very different things. Now, we’re sitting here in a manufactured environment across the table, we each have a microphone and it’s contrived. And so there are elements of performance that we need to adhere to from a non-verbal perspective, and at the same time, we’re also trying to serve our listeners and they are not getting any of that, so our non-verbal interaction won’t play to them.

0:04:18 Michael Bernstein: Right. Right, although my bet is that there would be a… That if you were to do a number of podcasts, some with a person in studio and some with people not in the studio, that people might non-consciously be able to tell the difference because you and I… So when I nod to you, and you say something, no one who’s listening to this can hear me nod, but you’re recognising that I’m nodding to you, which is giving you some feedback, which is then going to alter the way that you then respond to me.

0:04:46 Michael Port: Yeah, that makes sense.

0:04:46 Michael Bernstein: I think it’s possible that audience members can pick up on this. Now they may not be able to pick up on the fact that, oh, I might have just nodded, or you’re using you hands to communicate, but there may be a difference in the way that our non-verbals are helping us understand each other, with the then effect of how this affects our verbal communication.

0:05:05 Michael Port: It’s very interesting, because as a guest of many podcasts, I often get cut off a lot, because I pause more than maybe the average person when I’m trying to make a point. And when you do that when someone else is in the room, there are non-verbals you can use to let them know that you’re pausing. But many hosts are uncomfortable with silence and of course, historically in radio, silence: Dead air. It’s dead air, it’s the worst thing in the world, because you tune in to the station, there’s nothing there, they go somewhere else. Podcasting is a little bit different, we have a little bit more flexibility. But we don’t have that problem now, because we’re both in the same room.

0:05:44 Michael Bernstein: Right, exactly. And as a professor I’m always comfortable with silence, because anytime I ask my class a question and it’s silent I say, “I will out-wait you.” I promise my class I will out-wait them, I will wait for someone to respond.

0:05:54 Michael Port: And it takes a lot of confidence to do that.

0:05:56 Michael Bernstein: I wasn’t saying I was good at it when I started, after 10 seconds would go by, I’d feel very uncomfortable that it was silent in the room. But this also is true when I give talks, or when I give invited lectures, or colloquia at different universities, or at conferences. Sometimes I’ll say, “Are there any questions?” And sometimes if there is, if someone has a question right away, they’ll immediately raise their hand. But sometimes there’s a pause, and the key there is to wait enough time so that if someone does wanna ask you a question, but they weren’t 100% sure that they really wanted to be that person who raised their hand, they weren’t sure of themselves if they wanted to engage in an active public speaking. When you ask a person on stage a question, you are now becoming part of the performance. You need to wait a little bit of time to make sure you give people the chance. One thing I see people sometimes do is they’ll say, “Any questions?” And there’ll be maybe a three count, and then they move on.

0:06:49 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:06:50 Michael Bernstein: That’s sometimes not enough time. You don’t want to stand up there for 15, 20 seconds, but it’s good to give people a little bit of time.

0:06:55 Michael Port: Yeah, you need to give them some time to consume and then to process. It’s interesting, one of the things that I often say is that our ideas are only as good as people’s ability to consume them.

0:07:09 Michael Bernstein: Sure.

0:07:10 Michael Port: So we could be really quite clever, I’m sure you see this in academia a lot, but nobody understands what they’re talking about.

0:07:17 Michael Bernstein: My advisor in graduate school once told me that whether something is clear or not is always in the eye of the person reading it, or consuming it. That it doesn’t matter that if someone reads a manuscript of mine, one of the things that we as academics do is submit our papers to peer review, and sometimes a reviewer will come back and say, “This was unclear.” And regardless of whether or not I thought it was clear, perhaps because I’m fond of the way I wrote it, or perhaps because I have all of the knowledge, and the reviewer certainly has quite a bit of knowledge, but maybe they’re missing something, that it doesn’t matter what I think, if the reviewer thought it was unclear, if another person thought it was unclear, then it’s my responsibility as someone who is sharing information to try to make it more clear. Yeah.

0:08:03 Michael Port: Yeah. Well, I’m gonna get deeper into public speaking as a teacher, as a professor, and interacting with students, because your students are adults and they interact just like any audience would in a corporate environment. Or maybe they don’t, maybe there are some differences, but I wanna get deeper into that. Before we get into that, I wanna talk a little bit more about authenticity and non-verbals.

0:08:27 Michael Bernstein: Sure.

0:08:28 Michael Port: Do people use non-verbals to manipulate others, and if they do, what might they be?

0:08:35 Michael Bernstein: I think it’s possible that people do this. Non-verbals are often what are considered outside of regular control. So when we’re talking, our brain’s are doing an excellent job of working very quickly so that we don’t say something stupid. I mean people put their foot in their mouth, people say the wrong thing, people say things and say, “I really wish I hadn’t said that.”

0:08:55 Michael Port: Yeah, or they walk away and go, “Oh, I wish I had said this!”

0:08:56 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, yeah, that happens a lot.

0:08:58 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:09:00 Michael Bernstein: But in general, people are pretty good about controlling their verbal behavior. It’s possible to control non-verbals. You can make sure, “I’m gonna keep really good eye contact with this person,” or, “I’m going to make sure to pose in a position where I’m standing really open, my arms are out,” this is believed to increase a sense of both welcoming, but also power. You can actively do these things. And there’s some research that shows that when you actively do these things, this is effective. So we know that keeping good eye contact with another person generally makes that person feel important, it makes them feel more comfortable, this can be a signal that this is someone you’re interested in.

0:09:37 Michael Port: Unless of course you keep such…

0:09:40 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, such intense eye gaze…

0:09:41 Michael Port: That you freak them out.

0:09:43 Michael Bernstein: Right, absolutely, absolutely. So I think people can actively control these, but what’s interesting about non-verbals is that they’re often difficult to control unless you’re actively planning on it, and what this means is that they can be used as a cue to help you understand what another person might be thinking or feeling.

0:10:01 Michael Port: So say that again, because that’s really important.

0:10:02 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So the classic example, let me give you an example that might be helpful, imagine walking into a room and you see a friend of yours, or a family member, who is crying. And you ask them if they’re okay and they say, “I’m fine.” You don’t immediately take them at their word that they’re fine, a controlled behavior, and say, “Great, let’s go grab lunch. Let’s go, I’ll see you later.” You don’t ignore the non-verbal of the crying, just because of their controlled behavior. We can read through and we’re aware that just because you say something, doesn’t necessarily… It doesn’t always line up with how you’re actually feeling. So on first dates, on interviews, you can see, “Are people nervous?” We even say this sometimes, we’ll say, “That person gave a really good talk, but you could hear in their voice that they were nervous,” or, “they looked jittery.”

0:10:52 Michael Bernstein: And so being able to understand that non-verbals can act as a cue to perhaps an underlying emotional state or an underlying feeling can then help you, or help me. It helps me all the time as a professor know how the room is doing. So when I teach, my students are often… They’re often quiet, right? They’re taking notes, they’re paying attention, my eyes are on them. I try very hard to make eye contact with all the students in the class. I’m relatively fortunate that my biggest classes are 40 or 50, and so I can go out of my way to walk around the room and make sure to keep a close eye on everyone. But sometimes I’ll say… I’ll finish lecturing on something, and I’ll say, “Are there any questions?” And no one will raise their hand, and I can just tell whatever I just lectured on did not go over. They just didn’t get it, or at least a large segment of the class didn’t get it. Because you start to see these confused looks on their faces. You start to see jittering in the classroom and these are cues to me that, “I do not have the students right now. Something happened, either in the way I lectured or the material I covered, or something else in the environment that I’m not aware of. Something has happened that has caused me to lose this audience.”

0:12:06 Michael Bernstein: And I then have to make adjustments to the way I… Sometimes I say, “Okay, let’s… I noticed people said there’s no questions, but I really think it would be worth going over this again.” And you see these light bulb moments where students kind of have that ‘aha’ look, where their eyes widen and oftentimes I get a bit of a smile and they start nodding. These are all cues that something is making sense. They are getting this.

0:12:29 Michael Port: And I imagine, you’re looking for those cues throughout?

0:12:32 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, always.

0:12:33 Michael Port: And then adjusting accordingly. One of the things that’s interesting is sometimes it’s hard to make an assumption correctly about somebody’s impression of your speech. So, there are times when you have somebody sitting close to the front, and they’re back in their chair with their arms crossed, and their brow is furrowed and they kind of look like they just ate a lemon and it’s your fault, and they hate everything you’re saying. And you feel it starts getting into your head, and you start adjusting and trying to get them to smile, or do something, and it never happens. And then afterwards, you see them and they come up to you and go…

0:13:24 Michael Bernstein: “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.” [chuckle]

0:13:25 Michael Port: Yes, exactly right. So, one of the things that we encourage folks to do is to be careful about making too many assumptions based on body language, because they might not know how that person communicates.

0:13:40 Michael Bernstein: Absolutely.

0:13:40 Michael Port: So, can you speak to that a little bit?

0:13:41 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So, one thing that I would suggest and one thing that I try to do, is that I never look to one person, because individuals exhibit idiosyncratic behavior that is for them. So, this person could be thrilled, when they’re thrilled, their arms are crossed, the eyes are browed, why? Because they’re thinking really hard, they’re really engaged. Whereas someone else doing that indicates that they’re really annoyed, or they’re really bored. And someone else who’s sitting there smiling, might be happy, but someone else who’s sitting there smiling is thinking about something else and not even engaged.

0:14:12 Michael Bernstein: So, one thing I suggest is to always look to a lot of people, because in general, if your entire audience looks like they’ve just ate a lemon and it’s your fault, then there might be something going on. And if your entire audience looks that they’re smiling and they’re chuckling and they’re laughing and they seem to be paying attention, then you’re probably doing well, but focusing on any one individual is always gonna be problematic.

0:14:34 Michael Bernstein: The other thing is that it’s very hard not to attend, not to pay attention to negative information. It turns out that our brains are hard-wired to be really good at noticing and attending to bad news, bad information, negative signs. In part, because from a survival perspective, they’re more dangerous. So, if someone looks pissed at me, it’s kind of important for me to attend to, “Why is this person pissed?” And from an audience perspective, from giving a talk, someone who looks pissed might be someone who’s gonna ask a question, who’s going to push me on a topic that I need to be prepared for later. This happens in academic talks all the time, where I’ll present a research idea and someone will say, “Hey, I don’t know that I agree with that.” And we may get into an appropriate, this is the forum for this, but an academic debate. It’s helpful to be able to attend to ahead of time a little bit, “Hey, this person looks like they’re not buying this, but if I spend all of my time focusing on that, I’m gonna start diverting resources away from other things that are gonna help me make the performance better, make the talk better for everyone.”

0:15:41 Michael Port: And make your case.

0:15:42 Michael Bernstein: Absolutely.

0:15:42 Michael Port: And going into a lecture where you’re presenting that kind of important idea that you need to get buy in for, are you going through your material and trying to find the parts, or the ideas that people might object to, so that you’re prepared to overcome those objections?

0:16:03 Michael Bernstein: Absolutely. So, in teaching, it’s a little different because when I teach, sometimes I’ve given this lecture… So, I have a course that in the last six years, I’ve now taught this course 24 times, I teach it twice a semester, every semester for the last six years. So, I have these down to a pattern where I don’t rehearse them anymore, and I also don’t… There are things I say every semester that I don’t remember, jokes that I’ll make every semester, that I don’t have it written down. And if you asked me like, “Hey, do you remember the joke you said in this class?” I would say, “No.” But 30 seconds before the joke comes up, I remember. “Oh, this is the joke I say.” Because it always comes up, it always laughs, or, “This is the example I bring up to help if there’s anything unclear,” and I don’t have it written down.

0:16:47 Michael Bernstein: I don’t even remember that I make it as example, but right at the time this kind of motion memory, this automatized behavior. But when I’m giving an academic talk in particular, particularly one where I’m expecting there’s gonna be other researchers in the room who may disagree, I’m often sitting ahead of time thinking, “What would be,” I’m trying to put myself in the perspective of the audience member who might disagree, and think to myself, “what would be the point they would bring up that shreds my talk?” And I don’t mean that aggressively, but that really cuts to the core of something I’m arguing. So, that I can either build it into the talk ahead of time to try to get ahead of it, or at least have it in my back pocket so that if it comes up I can bring it out later.

0:17:29 Michael Port: One of the things that we do in our graduate level training for public speaking, is we devote a certain period of time, an amount of time to putting the student in a hostile situation. So, all of the other students are the audience. They act as the audience. And before the speaker comes on, the speaker’s out of the room and we give that audience very specific direction based on what we think that speaker might have a hard time dealing with, and then they act out those roles when the person speaks. And even though, here’s what’s remarkable, even though the people in the room, they have become incredibly close friends, they trust each other, they’re really, really tight.

0:18:18 Michael Port: When they get hit with these objections, they often freeze, they get red, they start sweating, they often will get hostile and aggressive, and push back, and start to try to debate a point that really they shouldn’t be debating. And it’s remarkable to me, and my stomach always hurts when we do it because it’s really intense. But it’s remarkable to me that even though they know it’s a game, it’s still very difficult. And we put them in that situation because they will never, never… I try to stay away from absolutes, but it’s very unlikely they will ever have a situation like that. So, let’s talk about rejection, because this is another area of expertise for you, not that you get rejected, but you studied rejection.

0:19:01 Michael Bernstein: I’m always rejected, that’s why I studied it, it’s “mesearch,” it’s not research, it’s “mesearch,” right?

0:19:06 Michael Port: That’s very good, I like that. I mean that’s the thing is that we all get rejected, we all have been rejected, and it can be very difficult at times depending on how much you care about the thing that you’re trying to put forward. So, will you talk to us about why rejection is so difficult, and how we can handle it better?

0:19:25 Michael Bernstein: Absolutely. So, social rejection is one of the most threatening things that can happen to us, in part because it is from an animal’s perspective, it is a threat to survival. Rejection happens to everyone, people experience thousands and thousands of exclusions over the course of their life, from waving to someone that you see and them not waving back, and you wondering, “Did they not see me?” Or, “Are they ignoring me?” To checking Facebook or Instagram in the morning and seeing that your friends or colleagues went out the night before, and you weren’t invited. To first dates that people think went really well, and they ask them for a second date, and they find out, “No.” To more serious, or to more severe exclusions, divorces, separations and things like this. So, they’re commonplace.

0:20:17 Michael Bernstein: And in part, they hurt because they are a threat to survival. When we were living in small groups hundreds of thousands of years ago, being kicked out of a group was effectively a death sentence, because you couldn’t just move to another tribe of humans, you couldn’t just move to another place, travel was difficult and other tribes were very inclusive. And so we adapted a way of responding to exclusion that tries to fix it before it happens, as soon as we detect it. And then if we can’t fix it, that aims to protect ourselves and find other groups.

0:20:51 Michael Port: And work sometimes unnecessarily for approval?

0:20:54 Michael Bernstein: Yes. And so, for example, in a case where it would be appropriate, if I come home and I see my wonderful wife and I say, “How was your day?” And she looks at me, and she doesn’t say anything. And then I say, “My day was this, da, da, da.” And she looks at me, and I’m getting the silent treatment. It’s really important for me to detect that quickly, it’s incredibly important that I detect that quickly, and I start to cue perceptual responses and behavioural responses to try to figure out, “Okay. Why am I being, right now, ignored? What is going on?” So, I can fix the situation. The problem is that sometimes we over-perceive. Sometimes, we see these and they’re actually not there.

0:21:38 Michael Bernstein: Some people are more what’s called, “Rejection sensitive,” than others. They over-perceive rejection in what are otherwise ambiguous or neutral behaviours. And during performances, we are often primed to be thinking about how was… When we’re performing, our goal is to be taken positively, right? When I teach, I have two goals, I want them to learn what I’m talking about, and I want them to ideally enjoy what I’m talking about, right? So, when you give a talk, and for people who are paid to give talks, you’re being paid to perform a service, to give a speech. When I’m giving an academic research talk, I want people to believe and buy what I’m talking about because that’s who I am as an academic, that’s part of my job. So, it makes sense that we’re very sensitive to when people appear to not like what we’re talking about. And it also is very reasonable that when someone actually says, “I don’t really buy this,” that it would make us feel uncomfortable.

0:22:38 Michael Port: Right, you actually physically feel it.

0:22:40 Michael Bernstein: Right, and because your body goes through physical changes, physiological changes when we’re socially rejected. So, it turns out that when you stub your toe, for example, there’s a region of your brain that activates, it’s sensitive to physical pain. It turns out when you’re rejected, that same region of the brain also activates. That our brains process social injuries like rejection, the same way they process physical injuries, the exact same neural substrates are used for both.

0:23:07 Michael Port: Do we process rejection more strongly than we do approval?

0:23:15 Michael Bernstein: I think the answer is probably yes, in part because there’s a whole literature on that negative information looms large. We pay a lot of attention to the negative information. And again, from a evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense that I might think of rejection as it’s more important to detect rejection than approval. It would be bad to only detect rejection, that would be a problem as well. But it might be even more dangerous to only perceive inclusion or approval, because you would never know when someone is upset with you. Or you would never know, “Man, this audience is just not getting this.” Right? As a professor…

0:23:54 Michael Port: And in the most extreme terms, you don’t, wouldn’t know if your life was at risk.

0:24:00 Michael Bernstein: Right, exactly. Luckily when I’m teaching and when you’re giving talks hopefully, there’s not a lot of scenarios where our life is at risk.

0:24:04 Michael Port: Exactly. Although there’s this baloney study out there that public speaking is the number one fear, and death is the number two. They talk about this study, somebody show it to me. It’s like the, “67% of statistics are made up on the spot,” one of those bogus things. But sometimes it’s so scary because we’re so afraid of the rejection. Stage fright is based on fear of being rejected. “I don’t like your idea, I don’t like you, I don’t like your pants, I don’t like your hair.” Or whatever it is. So, how do we focus on the positive? Because, if our listeners are also authors, say, and they get a hundred great reviews and they get one bad review, they’ll think about the bad review all day long. How do you focus on the positive?

0:24:50 Michael Bernstein: Part of it is remembering that in most cases when you are up on stage, there’s no one in the room who has more expertise about what you’re talking about than you do. So when I teach, there’s no one in the room who knows the topic more than I do. And that means that if someone asks me a question and I don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, “I don’t know the answer.” This happens sometimes in some of more advanced classes where we’re still building theory. And someone will say, “What would happen if we did this?” And I’ll say, “I don’t know. I don’t know.” I tell students…

0:25:23 Michael Port: So in academia, that is probably likely the case, because they’re students and you’re the professor. But sometimes, let’s say somebody’s an expert on social media marketing, and they go to a conference and they’re speaking about social media marketing. There may be a lot of people who either do social media marketing, or are professionals, and then they have this concern, “I’m gonna say something wrong.”

0:25:47 Michael Bernstein: I think that it’s good to remind people though, that audiences in general are not there to get you. As you said, when you do your graduate class, it is very unlikely they’re ever gonna face an audience as intense as this.

0:26:01 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:26:02 Michael Bernstein: The reality is, having been to hundreds and hundreds of talks and then given dozens and dozens of talks, I can think of two times off the top of my head where someone asked a question, I gave an answer, they said, “I don’t know that I buy the answer. Try again.” Not that aggressively.

0:26:23 Michael Port: Yeah. Sure.

0:26:25 Michael Bernstein: I tried again, and then they kept pushing. Almost always, I gave an answer and people say, “Okay.” Or I give an answer and they say, “Well, here’s a response to that answer.” And I say, “Okay, here’s another shot.” But it’s almost only a couple of times have I had to say, “Great, this is a great discussion. Let’s move on to the next question.”

0:26:46 Michael Port: Sure. And it’s interesting because especially when you’re not, either you don’t give a lot of speeches, or you’re just starting out and you wanna give more, we’re often faced with the, “Fraud factor.” And it’s so interesting to me because you might think the fraud factor is exclusive to people who are not yet known as experts in their field. But one of my best friends in the world is one of the most respected psychiatrists who specializes in autism in the country, and he lectures all over the world, and we were talking about this concept, and he said, “Oh, I feel like a fraud all the time, because I’m giving these speeches and there’s lots of scientists in the room. And I’m not technically a scientist, but I’m speaking on psycho pharmacology, etcetera, and all of our work in genetics around autism.” And he’s like, “Sometimes I feel like a fraud.” And it hit me, I said, “Oh, my God. Alex feels like a fraud sometimes? That’s crazy.”

0:27:41 Michael Port: And so hopefully, that makes people feel better, because if Alex feels like a fraud, or any of us that have a lot of experience. So certainly, I think it changes over time as you get more comfortable with yourself, and more confident and have more experience. But talk about this fraud factor and why that is such a fear for folks?

0:28:04 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So, this is actually a study in psychological phenomenon known among other things known as, “Impostor syndrome,” which is that people feel as though they should not, they have gotten into the situation they’re in, their status, their position, and they’re impostors. They have tricked people without meaning to, and they feel as though they don’t deserve to be there. And there’s lots of reasons why this occurs.

0:28:29 Michael Bernstein: And one thing to try to remember is to take the perspective of others, and to say, “You know, I’ve worked just as hard as these other people who I don’t think are impostors, and I have this expertise myself.” And to try to just do these kind of, for lack of better terms, reality checks, saying, “You know, I feel like a fraud. I feel like an impostor, but if I look at my accomplishments, if I look at what I’ve done and I look at what other people have done, I do seem to be appropriate here.” It’s hard, it takes a lot of time, and there are people who are at stages of their careers, I suspect, who I look at who seemed like the pinnacle of my field, and who made themselves, just like your friend Alex, may themselves feel like they don’t really deserve to have been there, that at any moment, this could come crashing down.

0:29:14 Michael Bernstein: And this makes putting yourself out there as a public speaker, or as an author for papers or things like that, particularly troubling. Because every time you do that you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of rejection, or in the case of believing you’re a fraud, in the opportunity to be found out.

0:29:33 Michael Port: Well the thing that’s so interesting about human dynamics is that most people who wanna give speeches, and most people who wanna teach and write papers, they’re trying to be helpful, I mean that’s what they wanna do. They’ve got some ideas they think will help people, they wanna do some work that will advance society, improve our culture, etcetera. And yet, when you are somebody who puts your work out there, you open yourself up to this rejection in ways that people who don’t go out of their way to be that helpful, they don’t have that same issue.

0:30:10 Michael Port: So sometimes I think that this impostor syndrome is made worse by trying to be impressive, by trying to be good. And I think it’s very difficult to be good, I think you can be helpful, and as a result you may be perceived as, “Oh, they were good because they helped me.” Do you think that if people focus really on helping with their presentation, “My goal is to go help them achieve this particular goal, help them understand this,” and get completely out of their own sense of self and how they appear to be, and focus just on helping, does it make it make a difference? Does it help you focus on the positive?

0:30:57 Michael Bernstein: I think if people can do that, that may help with that. I think it’s difficult to dissociate wanting to help by sharing information, and also wanting that information to be received positively. So I think it’s difficult to separate like, “I don’t care what you think about me, as long as I get you the good information.” That said, “I think if I get you the good information and I do it effectively, people will feel positively about me.” So I think one way that we can ensure that kind of our performances are taken better, is to make sure that we have expertise, and that we’re good at conveying the expertise that we’re trying to share. Because if we actually know the material, we know what we’re talking about, and then not just know it but know how to explain it, right? So at Abington, I teach psychological statistics. This is dry material.

0:31:56 Michael Port: I took that class, and the only reason I got through it was because of a woman named Marnie, who my friend ended up marrying. She totally carried me through the whole class. She gave me the notes, she tutored me, otherwise that’s tough.

0:32:09 Michael Bernstein: It is, it’s a tough class, it’s dry material, and it’s a class that students walk into, they’re already in the negative expectation, right? A lot of classes students walk into, they’re either excited about the course, or they’re neutral to it. This is a course where students walk in expecting it to be terrible.

0:32:26 Michael Port: And that happens a lot in the corporate world as well at conferences, because often they’re forced to go to the conference, and last year, it’s like “Oh my God, the speaker just droned on.”

0:32:35 Michael Bernstein: Right. And so you need to find ways of sharing the information that makes it relevant for people, and that gets people engaged early. And sometimes that’s talking straight with the audience. So I tell students on the first day, “This is gonna be a hard course, you may not find this to be… If you find this to be the best course you’ve taken all semester, you’ve chosen your courses terribly.”


0:33:00 Michael Bernstein: I said, “But, it’s not gonna be as bad as you think it’s gonna be.” And while getting an A is very challenging, students who do the following things, they show up, they do their homeworks, they come to me when they have questions. “You don’t feel comfortable asking questions in class? Come to my office.” I say, “I have students who will meet with me for an hour a week starting next week for the rest of the semester, some students will come to me even more, so if you do these things… ”

0:33:25 Michael Port: It’s pretty generous that you’ll do that.

0:33:26 Michael Bernstein: Well, but this is my job as a professor. Part of professors at Abington.

0:33:31 Michael Port: I remember when I was in college, I’d go to the office everyday, I could never find them. I didn’t…

0:33:37 Michael Bernstein: But so I think if we make our material relevant, if we show expertise, if we show understanding. They’re like, “Listen, I know none of you are super excited to be here, but we’re gonna take the next two hours of this class and the next two days a week for 16 weeks,” or, “we’re gonna take the next four hours of this lecture at this conference, and we’re gonna make the best out of it that we can.” And you talk straight with them, now you’re showing empathy with the audience, you’re showing compassion with the audience, you’re showing…

0:34:07 Michael Port: Honesty.

0:34:08 Michael Bernstein: Honesty, and this at least gets people to give you some buy in. And if then you can start off, and you can get good information effectively, and if you can find ways of making it light. Sometimes… I remember when I started teaching and it was very early on, I was very focused on trying to think of jokes, of adding humour, because we know that sense of humour makes these kind of performances better, and I think often it does, but it turns out, I was not good at forcing humour. I was far better at just sort of letting things come off-the-cuff, and just say things as they went, than I was at spending time penning the right statistics joke, which turns out…

0:34:48 Michael Port: Actually writing the joke. Yeah. Now you weren’t off-the-cuff about your lesson plans, or knowing your material, that was really organized. You were off-the-cuff in terms of how you interacted with them?

0:35:00 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The ability to go off script based on a question, or based on a realization of, “That example didn’t land. I gave an example, that didn’t work.” And being able to think off the top of my head quickly to re-engage the audience, and get them back on the topic at hand, because the number one goal is to get the content out. And this goes back to the question about can we dissociate wanting to be good from wanting to be helpful? I think we can, but in the end if we’re being really helpful, this should also help us be taken and perceived positive.

0:35:40 Michael Port: Seriously, yeah. So, do you find it’s a lot easier to go off-the-cuff when you know your material backwards and forward? Do you find it more difficult if you’re not 100% sure? If it’s new, then it’s hard to go off track because you don’t know if you’re gonna get back on?

0:35:56 Michael Bernstein: Yes, yeah absolutely. So the better you know what you’re talking about, the easier it is to go off-script, as it were. And again, I never… So professors often give talks with PowerPoints, so my entire script is whatever is on my PowerPoint slide, I try not to put a lot of text on them because I don’t want the audience members reading, I want them listening to me. So I don’t have a script, but I do know like, “Okay on this slide, I’m gonna talk about this topic.” And I know that inside and out enough, that I can kind of go off-script, as it were, and make a joke and get back. But occasionally, I will sort of blank on something, or there’ll be a slide that I added, and I thought I had it, I thought I really understood what I was talking about, and I can feel myself going off. And sometimes I have to say to the audience, “Hold on. I lost it everyone.” And take a moment to get back. And…

0:36:46 Michael Port: And they’re okay with it, yeah.

0:36:47 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. So this is the thing is that, is that if you have a rapport with your audience, and oftentimes you can develop that rapport pretty quickly in the beginning by just being honest and coming out, and as I said, kind of telling them, “Here’s what our goal is today,” and talking to them. There’s sometimes a difference between the performance voice and the conversation voice, and I think part of what I try to do when I give talks, is have that performance voice run, talking to the crowd and I’m talking to everyone, but also being able to shift back into a different tone and literally a different tone where I say, “I hope everyone understood that, because I don’t know if that was super clear.”

0:37:28 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:37:28 Michael Bernstein: And throw these things out, because it shifts back and forth, and this also helps with engaging.

0:37:33 Michael Port: Well that’s the contrast.

0:37:34 Michael Bernstein: Yeah.

0:37:35 Michael Port: One of the things I write about is creating contrast in performance, it’s what keeps people engaged.

0:37:39 Michael Bernstein: Right.

0:37:40 Michael Port: If we… Talked… Like… This… For, you’d have no contrast. So, contrast is very exciting, and you seem to be doing that intentionally, not just naturally. You’ve thought about it.

0:37:53 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, so I think it is something that I’ve thought about and then have been able to actively build into the talks.

0:38:00 Michael Port: That’s right. Yeah. And you understand the importance of it and intentionally do bring in that style.

0:38:05 Michael Bernstein: And it’s now a tool in kind of the toolbox, so that if I am giving a talk and it isn’t going well, I can’t start bringing these tools out. So switching, switching back and forth between this performance tone, and this more conversational tone.

0:38:19 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:38:20 Michael Bernstein: Throw in a joke if I can think of… If I can bring a joke on that really, if I’m confident it’s gonna land, there’s nothing worse than making a joke. I do this in my classroom as well, I’ll make a joke and no one will laugh and I say, “Guys, I’m gonna try that again. Let me try that again, because that was supposed to be funny and it didn’t land.”

0:38:36 Michael Port: Yeah.

0:38:36 Michael Bernstein: And I will repeat the exact same joke and everyone laughs, not because the joke’s funny, but because people can’t believe…

0:38:42 Michael Port: That you repeated it. [laughter]

0:38:43 Michael Bernstein: I just repeated another bad joke.


0:38:47 Michael Bernstein: But again, you have to be able to read the audience and know, “Can I get away with that?” Because the other possibility is the audience goes, “Who does this idiot think he is?”

0:38:56 Michael Port: Yeah, sure.

0:38:56 Michael Bernstein: “I can’t believe he just said that a second time.”

0:38:58 Michael Port: Sure.

0:39:00 Michael Bernstein: And it’s knowing your audience, it’s knowing your audience, it’s knowing whether your audience thinks you’re an expert and is willing to give you that, “Yeah, that was a pretty bad joke, but it’s pretty funny he’s engaging in some self-deprecation by saying the joke again.”

0:39:12 Michael Port: So, earlier on in the conversation, I mentioned that we’re going to talk more about how you interact with students in the classroom, and we naturally got into that, so it’s great. One of the things that is important about any kind of public performance is that when you say you’re gonna do something, it’s pretty important to do it. So we were already doing it, I wanna continue with that just a bit. You’ve taught at schools that have contrasting student demographics.

0:39:35 Michael Bernstein: Sure.

0:39:35 Michael Port: How does the audience shift the way that you present?

0:39:40 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So I went to a graduate school and earned my masters and my doctorate at Miami University of Ohio, and I now teach at Penn State Abington. The students at both places are wonderful and absolutely amazing. Miami is much more racially homogeneous, they’re mostly white. They’re also far more affluent. At some point in the last, when I was there, so six or seven years ago, the median parental income, meaning the 50th percentile income for parents, was like $150,000, which is a lot, they consider themselves a public Ivy, they’re an unbelievably good school, the student-body is reasonably well-off. And while there are certainly students there, and Miami there’s a pretty strong job for students who are particularly underprivileged with respect to socioeconomic status, they do a very good job of giving them resources. It’s a pretty well-to-do school.

0:40:36 Michael Bernstein: At Penn State, Abington, it’s a very racially heterogeneous school, it’s pretty close to 50% non-white, with a large Asian population, a large African-American and black population, Hispanics. We have a huge international population, and the socioeconomic status of the school ranges wildly. So there are students who are born into privilege, economic privilege, which is wonderful for them, and students who are working 40 hours a week while being a full-time student in order, not just to support themselves, but to support their parents, to support their siblings, to support children. It’s just a very diverse in every sense of the word.

0:41:17 Michael Bernstein: And so there are two big differences, one of them is that students at Abington don’t have to be convinced or brought along slowly on some of the topics that at Miami, it might have taken a little longer to talk about. So, I teach courses on stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, and at Miami, I sometimes I had to work a little bit longer and more slowly to talk about this. When I talk about that people have prejudice and that there are stereotypes, and that stereotypes and prejudice can be good, there are groups it’s okay to be stereotyping and prejudice against, right? I think it’s okay to be prejudiced against members of the KKK. I think it’s okay to stereotype paedophiles to say, “This is probably a group that we don’t want to be spending,” not to discriminate against blindly, right? We have a justice system on things like this, but that it’s okay to rely on some of these things.

0:42:14 Michael Bernstein: But I would ask students sometimes at Miami, “What are stereotypes about white people?” And there would be a long pause like, “Well, there are no stereotypes about white people.” And whereas when I say this at Abington, both white students and non-white students all laugh and they’re able to talk about this, and I don’t have to convince them that prejudice is real. And so some of it is our life experiences lead to differences in the way the information that we have to be convinced of, versus the information we don’t have to be convinced of.

0:42:40 Michael Port: Yeah, so you’re demonstrating that you understand the way the world looks to them, by introducing them to concepts that may be confronting to them, a little bit more gracefully?

0:43:00 Michael Bernstein: Right. And this is in part by taking the perspective of my audience, of knowing at some places that this is going to be taken differently. The other thing is understanding that the audience at Abington has a lot more obstacles in the way of their learning. So we have students at Abington who are hungry, who are working until 8 in the morning night shifts, and then coming for my 9 o’clock class. And part of this is figuring out your schedule so you can do everything you’d like, but part of this is also my job as a professor, and then the college’s job at helping students deal with these obstacles as best they can.

0:43:41 Michael Bernstein: So, when I teach statistics, there’s a basic assumption that they have a certain level of math experience. But at Miami, most of the students had pretty strong K through 12 education. At Abington, that varies a lot. I have students at my stats class who have taken calculus, which means they know more about math than I do, because I don’t know much about math. My math kind of stops around just above college algebra, maybe, and that I know a lot about statistics. But I also have students at my class who are not as prepared as others with respect to their math training, so it’s being aware that there are the…

0:44:19 Michael Port: And respecting all of these different experiences and world views, etcetera.

0:44:24 Michael Bernstein: Right, right. So it’s needing to know who’s gonna be more resistant to certain information than others, taking their perspective, and then also knowing what are the obstacles in the way of… It’s not the material you’re sharing anymore, it doesn’t matter what I would be teaching.

0:44:40 Michael Port: Their own experiences.

0:44:41 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, their own experiences and certain obstacles they’re gonna have, that could interfere with how they’re going to be able to learn any material, and trying to help them do that.

0:44:50 Michael Port: There’s two really, really good points. By the way, I heard that you are an expert in some card games, and we’re gonna get to that in a minute, and how non-verbals can help you when you’re playing things like card games, if you wanna win, that is. You have co-founded an organization called ACCESS?

0:45:19 Michael Bernstein: Yes.

0:45:19 Michael Port: And I wanna know what it is, and also, it was a startup for you, so you had to pitch this idea, and I’m sure you have to still pitch this idea. So, how did it come about, and how do you go about convincing people that they should pay attention to you and this particular concept?

0:45:39 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So, ACCESS stands for Abington Center for Civic Engagement and Scholarly Service. And it was developed by a wonderful colleague of mine who was hired at the same time as I was, another socio-psychologist who’s at Penn State Abington, Dr. Jacob Benfield. He and I do a lot of work together. And we’ve been there now six years, and have done a lot of work for the college and with the community, and we came up with this idea and the goal was sort of founded out of this realization that the colleges, and Abington as a particular college, has a lot of resources that members of the community, whether they be corporate or non-profit could benefit from.

0:46:26 Michael Bernstein: We have skill sets that other people don’t have. And if you’re a multinational company, you might have PhDs working for you, but you even might not. And if you’re a smaller company, or you’re a non-profit, you almost certainly don’t have the resources to have a full-time evaluator, or a full-time market person, or a full-time psychologist who’s able to help you. And we also know that students are always in need of out-of-the-classroom experiences. Classroom learning is wonderful, it’s foundational, it’s important but there’s a ton of research that shows, and we understand this anecdotally, that students when they learn to apply these skills in the classroom in the real world, they not only make more connections with how their learning impacts their own world but it gives them good experience.

0:47:15 Michael Bernstein: In other words a student who graduates having never had an internship or an externship, having never had a job that relates their college education to their job, but has excellent classroom experiences, is probably not as well off as a student who also has excellent classroom experiences, but now has these out-of-the-classroom opportunities, where they are working on site at a location related to their field of study, or working with a professor.

0:47:41 Michael Bernstein: And so the idea was that if there are three groups of people that a college can interact with, if you have your faculty, you have your students, and you have then the community, that anything we can do to try to create connections between all three probably yields benefits for all three groups. Students get experience, faculty get connections to the community, and then community members, whether they be corporate or non profit, get the benefit of working with students who are up and coming. They get this philanthropic connection to the college, and get these connections with the faculty members.

0:48:16 Michael Bernstein: So this is sort of the idea behind ACCESS, and we pitched it to our administrators sort of as this, that this is a win, it’s a win, win, win. And we made sure that we made this request only after we’d been there for a little bit of time, so they knew that we were… They knew we weren’t… They had some trust that we were reasonable people who could execute this, and have been moving forward with that since then. We launched basically at the very end of last spring semester, and then spent the summer and this fall beginning to build those relationships and make these connections, and moving forward from there. We’ve had a good success so far.

0:48:56 Michael Port: Oh that’s cool, well after the interview, I’d like to talk to you more about that and see how I might be able to get involved. That’s pretty cool. Okay, let’s do it, let’s talk about using non-verbals to win at things like games. How do you do it?

0:49:12 Michael Bernstein: So this is hard. So some of this is… So when we think of shows like, “Lie to me,” or shows like where people are reading non-verbals for card games and things like that. These are often based on scientific truths, but that are just somewhat exacerbated. So the show, “House,” for example, I have a friend of mine who works in diagnostic medicine and he said, “Everything you see on House is absolutely accurate, but it’s probably unlikely that anyone is just that good.” So oftentimes, we have this perception that you can learn to read behaviours, and I can read the deepest thoughts of your mind. This has probably been exaggerated by…

0:49:57 Michael Port: Do people get nervous when they find out that you’re a behavioural expert in… And…

0:50:01 Michael Bernstein: So sometimes, they do. [laughter]

0:50:02 Michael Port: Because my father is a psychiatrist, and sometimes people get nervous when they meet him. They think he’s gonna analyse them…

0:50:07 Michael Bernstein: I almost never tell people, particularly on a plane when people ask me what I do, I almost never tell them that I’m a psychologist, because one of two things happen; they either become extremely anxious, or they start telling me everything. And because I’m not a clinical psychologist, I actually have zero value in that type of domain. Further, if I were a clinical psychologist, it would still be inappropriate to just be telling me everything about your deepest, darkest, your life secrets and stuff. So I almost never tell people that I’m a psychologist. I often tell people that I’m a cognitive scientist, because no one knows what that means.

0:50:44 Michael Port: It shuts them up right away. [laughter]

0:50:47 Michael Bernstein: Because no one knows what it means and it doesn’t sound super interesting, and so people go, “Oh, that’s cool, what does that?” “I teach at a college.” And they’re like, “Oh, okay. Great.” I got that from another adviser of mine who used to tell people he was a cognitive scientist for the same reason. Yeah, but students sometimes are under the mistaken impression that I will always know if they’re lying, particularly after the section on non-verbals. And I’m okay with them thinking this, I’m okay with them believing I’m like, “Yep, I totally know what you’re thinking.”

0:51:16 Michael Port: So these things that people hear that if you look up to the left it means this, or up to the right, it means that or that.

0:51:27 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, so I’ve heard those too, and actually I can’t say for sure whether that is based in any type of reality. I suspect that it might not be, only because as a rule, if you see something in the popular media a lot. So for instance, there’s the statistics that we only use 10% or our brains, and this shows up in everything.

0:51:46 Michael Port: It shows up all over the place.

0:51:47 Michael Bernstein: The movie, “Lucy” had this, “Well you only use 10% of your brains, and if can unlock more, you would become a super hero” And everything is just… It’s a complete lie, we use all of our brains. It’s not even like, “Well, there’s a little bit of truth to it.” It’s completely false, we use all of our brains. So as a general rule if I hear something in the media a lot, I often question its scientific validity, but I can’t say for certain that like… I don’t have a citation off the top of my head that says, “No, looking up and to the left,” or, “looking to the right means nothing.” I think the argument is that if you look up and to the left, you’re accessing the creative centers of your brain, which is a cue for lying. But I have this strange suspicion, and I can look this up and tell you, I can find this out afterwards, or I can contact some friends of mine and see if they know, that this may just be a fabrication. It sound really good.

0:52:33 Michael Port: Well it’s interesting, because I’ve been thinking about some of these things as we’ve been sitting across the table. And as I said, this is a manufactured environment. There are performance elements to it because if I look like I’m sleeping through this, you might start to feel a little bit uncomfortable, and interestingly enough, I feel like I might be doing a pretty good job of performing, because I was up at 3:30 in the morning, and I am about as tired as I can be.

0:53:00 Michael Bernstein: You seem perfectly awake.

0:53:00 Michael Port: Do I look like I’ve…

0:53:01 Michael Bernstein: You seem incredibly awake.

0:53:03 Michael Port: There we go. That’s performance.

0:53:03 Michael Bernstein: As soon as this microphone goes off, your head’s gonna hit the desk, but you seem totally fine.

0:53:07 Michael Port: Exactly right.

0:53:08 Michael Bernstein: There are cues…

0:53:09 Michael Port: Well no, the reason I mention it is because I’ve been looking up to the left every once in a while, before I ask you…

0:53:14 Michael Bernstein: I’ve assumed you’ve been lying to me, actually.

0:53:15 Michael Port: Yes.

0:53:16 Michael Bernstein: I’ve just assumed that.

0:53:16 Michael Port: The whole time. But interestingly enough it’s before I ask a question, which of course can’t be a lie, because I’m just asking you a question. And there’s a couple of different reasons, one, because I have my right elbow on the table, and my right hand on my chin, which means I can’t move to the right. And when I’m looking up to the left, I move my head to the left, so of course that’s the natural way. And the way that I’m sitting just has me a little bit pivoted this way, even though for the most part, I’m forward to you. So it seems like…

0:53:45 Michael Bernstein: We also know that when we… Human beings seem to understand, at least in western culture, that if I look away from you, it’s a cue that I’m thinking about something. Think about the alternative which is, I’m staring right at you while I’m thinking, then there might be a misperception that I’m waiting on you to say something. So looking off into the distance is sort of a cue of like, “I’m pondering this, I’m thinking about this. It’s giving me the chance to kind of come back to this.” There are cues to when people are lying, or when people are nervous that are actual things. So when people are jittery, particularly if they went from not jittery to more jittery, this might indicate anxiety. When people are… If their eyes are moving around a lot, particularly if they went from being more stable to less stable, this could indicate…

0:54:35 Michael Port: And this is why performance skills are so important, because if you’re in a negotiation and you’re nervous, if you are jittery and all over the place, you’re probably gonna lose.

0:54:44 Michael Bernstein: Right. And we know that there are behaviours that make people feel more close, more warm. So there are behaviours called, “immediacy behaviours,” and it’s this is eye contact, kinda forward lean, kind of open pose, as opposed to if I were to move and show you more of my shoulder, or lean back. These are less immediate behaviours. So when you’re engaging in someone and you are comfortable with them, or you want to appear comfortable with them, it’s good to lean forward. Show sort of more open chest, rather than a shoulder, make good eye contact. And these are things that we can use both to present ourselves in a particular way, but also to recognize these traits in others.

0:55:28 Michael Port: You hear a lot of people talk about the lips, or the eyebrows. So if their lips are turned down. I remember I saw somebody do something where they were showing the different politicians when they were lying about something, and then they got caught. But when they were lying about it, they all had the same expression on their mouth. Like when Clinton said, “I did not have sexual… ” So are there a lot of non-verbals that the face expresses, that we can pick up these kinds of cues from? Because we’re always looking at the face and picking up cues, some people do it better than others, naturally. And so if you feel like you don’t do it really well naturally, what can you do to improve?

0:56:14 Michael Bernstein: Sure. So there are certain muscles in the face that are… We have muscles that we control, those are striated muscles, I’m going back to biology which has been some years. And then we have these smooth muscles, which we don’t have much control over. They sort of happen involuntarily. So like your esophagus is smooth muscle, when you swallow something, you don’t make your oesophagus do stuff, right? It just happens automatically. And some of these muscles in your face are striated, and some of them are smooth, and some of them you have control over or not. So it turns out, when you smile, it activates muscles around the mouth, that’s how we smile. But you also often hear people say that they don’t like the way their smile looks in pictures. And the reason for this is that it’s a fake smile, when I tell you, “Smile,” and you smile, you’re activating muscles down here. And it might be a perfectly good smile, but it’s only using the muscles down here.

0:57:08 Michael Bernstein: When you actually are happy about something, when something truly makes you happy, it activates the same muscles on the lower half of the face, but then it actually activates muscles in the eyes, sort of in the crow’s feet area, and kind of in between the eyes. These are muscles that we don’t have control over. And a true smile or what’s known as a, “Duchenne smile,” Duchenne being the researcher who first identified this, is a smile that happens only when we’re genuinely happy, or genuinely feeling good about something. When we’re about to help another person, when we are about to cooperate in a game where the option to work with you or against you, we exhibit Duchenne smile.

0:57:48 Michael Port: So you’re able to often detect a difference, is it real? You can detect, you say, “They’re really happy and they’re smiling about this,” or “they’re kinda faking it right now.”

0:57:56 Michael Bernstein: Right. And so that’s one way that you can decide this. We know that when we’re disgusted with something. Disgust is a really important emotion, we don’t think of it oftentimes. It’s like, we think about happy, sad, scared, angry, those are of course important emotions, but disgust is a really important emotion. Disgust is why we don’t eat or drink old, mouldy food. And it’s why when we see something that looks like it could hurt us, that’s sickly, why we kinda don’t wanna get too close to it.

0:58:23 Michael Port: And even right now, both of us, our eyes are squinting and our eyebrows are furrowed…

0:58:26 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, and by the way, the reason your eyes squint…

0:58:27 Michael Port: As soon as you said, “disgust”, my face took on the look of disgust.

0:58:30 Michael Bernstein: The reason your eyes squint is to prevent something from getting into your eyes. So the reason why… Our facial reaction to disgust is normally a more closed mouth, it’s a tightening of the throat, which should prevent your…

0:58:42 Michael Port: I can feel that, yeah.

0:58:43 Michael Port: Which should prevent you from swallowing anything, and it’s a slanting or closing of the eyes, to prevent anything from getting into your face. It’s actually a biological response to protect you from eating, or drinking, or getting anything into your eyes that would make you sick. So the disgust, the reason why our faces look the way they do when we’re disgusted, this sort of like, “Ugh,” look, which of course I just did and no one can see other than you. Everyone should just accept I gave a great…

0:59:10 Michael Port: It’s an excellent disgusting look.

0:59:12 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. It was an excellent… Everyone has missed out, except for Michael. We can take a picture of it and put it up on YouTube.

0:59:17 Michael Port: You know what, Michael? It was disgusting.

0:59:19 Michael Bernstein: Thank you, it was a disgusting disgust response. That is done because it is meant to protect the person from eating, or drinking, or being exposed to something that could otherwise hurt them. So understanding these cues, and by the way, people experience disgust responses to things that are not about eating, drinking or having something exposed to them. Sometimes we’ll hear something that we are morally disgusted by, or a value, something that threatens our value that we’re disgusted by. So if we think about in the political arena, people routinely are disgusted by the things politicians say, regardless of who they are, people find themselves… Whether you’re pro-choice or you’re pro-life, if you’re concerning the Syrian refugees that we’re discussing now, a politician comes out and says, “We should ban them all,” or, “we should let them all in.” People are on each side of that or in the opposing sides have a disgust reaction.

1:00:17 Michael Bernstein: And I suspect that if you were to have people watch a video of someone espousing a belief that they disagreed with, and this value or belief was something that was core to their sense of self, if it’s just like, “I’m in favor of one political position,” and, “I’m against it,” but it’s not like an identity of who I am, this probably wouldn’t happen. But, if it’s something that’s core to my values and you espouse something that I find fundamentally wretched that you would say that, I suspect that there may be an activation of muscles in my face that might be observable, but certainly would be measurable using a facial EMG, which is a method of measuring electrical activity in muscles in the face, and that would elicit a disgust response. That would be my hypothesis of this.

1:01:08 Michael Port: Yeah, so in your card games, I don’t think you’re a big gambler, or something like that…

1:01:13 Michael Bernstein: I’m actually incredibly risk-averse. I’m very happy to sit down and play poker for a $10 buy in, $5 re-buy in, and that’s about the upper limit of my gambling.

1:01:20 Michael Port: Yeah. So how does this help when you’re playing these kind of games?

1:01:26 Michael Bernstein: So part of this is that if you know, so I don’t go to the casino and play with people I don’t know, so it probably doesn’t help me very much. I sit and play with friends who I know. “Oh, so and so is lying because this is what they always do when they lie,” I mean you learn…

1:01:39 Michael Port: So you can pick up their tells pretty quickly?

1:01:41 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, to some extent, to some extent. But when you are… So imagine that you’re gambling at a table and you get a full house, a full house is a pretty, pretty great hand. It would be unusual for your body to not start exhibiting physiological arousal, increased heartbeat, right? Starting to sweat a little bit, a sign of increased blood pressure. Why? This is exciting, you could win a lot of money. Those things are gonna translate to physical responses. And what happens is people, professional poker players are really good at controlling their bodies, of saying, “I’ve got a full house, I gotta control my heart, I gotta to control,” and they’re not sitting there going like, “I need to slow down my heart,” but they are., they’ve practised breathing techniques, this is why they all wear glasses, because it’s very hard to stop pupil dilation. So your pupils dilate whenever you see something that you’re focusing on or…

1:02:43 Michael Port: Or it stimulates you.

1:02:44 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. And so why do they wear dark glasses? They’re trying to prevent others from reading their non-verbals. And because, whether consciously or not, we are excellent at reading people’s non-verbals, we can just tell. We can tell sometimes when, “Something isn’t right in this situation,” or, “someone’s acting strange.” And we wanna be able to be focused on that. Interestingly, rejection increases our ability to detect things like real and fake smiles. We’re faster and more accurate at reading facial expressions of emotion when we’ve been rejected. Now, this doesn’t mean before your next job interview, go get rejected so you can read the interviewer real well. But it turns out, when we’re standing up on stage and we get rejected, or we feel like we’re being rejected, our attention gets diverted to reading cues that should be helpful in us figuring out a way to fix the situation. Sometimes that leads to us over perceiving, that can lead to mistakes.

1:03:41 Michael Port: Right, as we were talking about earlier. Yeah.

1:03:42 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. It can lead to mistakes, but rejection actually leads to a host… There’s a research coming out of the, I think the Netherlands, that shows that rejected people are better at detecting truths and lies. I haven’t read that research, but I’ve seen it being presented. So there’s a host of [1:03:58] ____ when we feel rejected, kind of bringing it back from rejection and non-verbals together, that there’s some work showing us that we become better at this.

1:04:08 Michael Port: Now, the last thing and this is most important.

1:04:11 Michael Bernstein: Excellent.

1:04:13 Michael Port: I understand you bring some magic into your classes?

1:04:17 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. So I’ve got a pretty solid card trick that I often portray… I give in the same lecture that I do non-verbals, and I don’t highlight the fact that the two are actually less related, right? It’s a card trick, and it relies on kind of these non-verbal cues.

1:04:40 Michael Port: And non-verbal cues on whose part, your part?

1:04:43 Michael Bernstein: So it’s reading the non-verbals of the people who’re the participant in the trick.

1:04:50 Michael Port: Got it.

1:04:50 Michael Bernstein: Yeah.

1:04:50 Michael Port: And then, you use it as a teaching tool to demonstrate how it works?

1:04:54 Michael Bernstein: Right. And we talk about eye movement, and breathing and jittery, and it turns out that as I’m getting closer and closer to the card, students tend to… They start to get a smile because… And by the way, they’re standing, I do this very intentionally. I make it so that I make the student, I say, “Who wants to be the person who’s gonna be involved in this trick?” And I try to find a student who’s more talkative in class, who’s more…

1:05:19 Michael Port: Yes. Yes, yes. You’re picking the right subject.

1:05:20 Michael Bernstein: Who’s more emotive. And I then, once they’re up there, I say, “By the way, if you think I picked this student by accident, you’re wrong. I picked this student because the student is emotive, they do show their emotions, they are involved.” And I make them stand up in the front of class and I do a spiel for a little bit, that is, I’m talking about non-verbals and I then say, “By the way, if you’re wondering why I haven’t started the trick yet, it’s because I want him or her to be a little uncomfortable,” and I’m trying to increase the non-verbals so that I can get more out of this person.

1:05:48 Michael Port: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right, and it’s a really good point because one of the things that we encourage people to do is to make very careful choices with respect to who they have do interactive techniques, or experiences from the audience. My business partner on the, “Book Yourself Solid” side of the business, Matthew Kimberly, was working on a speech where his goal was to sell an apple to someone in the audience for $40. And he was gonna demonstrate that he could sell this apple for $40. And if you can sell an apple for $40, you can pretty much sell anything.

1:06:28 Michael Port: And I worked on it with him and he’s a great performer. He actually was, when he was very young, he was a street performer, and it’s one of the things that has taught him a lot about performing and it really helps him now as a speaker. And he brought someone up on stage to be the person that he sells this apple to, and we really worked on identifying the kind of person that would work well for this, because you could have someone up there who specifically goes, “Oh, I’m gonna (beep) this guy up. Yeah, I’m gonna ruin this.”

1:07:03 Michael Bernstein: Or the opposite. Somebody who says, “I’m gonna sell you this apple for $40.” “Great, I’ll buy it.” And it’s because they think they’re being helpful, not realizing that’s not the point, that’s not the goal here.

1:07:13 Michael Port: Exactly. And it’s interesting, when I was an actor, my girlfriend and I at the time, and Daniel Dae Kim, who’s a well known actor now, and his wife went to see a play on Broadway called “Fool Moon”, F-O-O-L Moon. And it was with two clowns, and it’s European style clowning, and one of them speaks and one of them doesn’t. And, at one point, they brought people up on stage to be part of the show. And we were in the second row and, lo and behold, they pick me. And we went up there and we did the whole thing, and afterwards they had us lined up, and the one who didn’t speak at all, turned around and looked at me and goes, “You’re a (beep) actor, aren’t you?” I was like, “Yeah.” And he goes, “I knew it.” And what he was telling me was, “We picked the wrong person.” Meaning because an actor’s gonna do this really well, really easily, you’re not gonna get the same kind of anxiety and conflict that they’re looking for. It was too easy.

1:08:18 Michael Bernstein: That’s really funny. [chuckle]

1:08:19 Michael Port: And I’m thinking, “Well hey, thanks for giving me my Broadway debut.”

1:08:22 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, yeah that’s really funny. And yeah, and so this is part of when you are… I’m always amazed when I see performances where they ask an audience member to come up, because there is a huge risk in that, and it requires two things, it requires a willingness to take that risk, and it requires being able to quickly identify who’s gonna be able to do this. I often watch Penn & Teller’s Show, “Bullshit!”

1:08:48 Michael Port: Yes, sure.

1:08:49 Michael Bernstein: I used to watch Bullshit! But I now watch their show… I can’t even remember the name of it, where magicians get up and they try to trick, “Can You Fool Us?” So I think it’s called “Fool Us.” And at the end, they always do a trick at the end, and they often pull someone up from the audience. And we actually saw Penn & Teller a few months ago.

1:09:08 Michael Port: I saw them when I was younger, they’re amazing.

1:09:09 Michael Bernstein: Yeah, they’re absolutely amazing. I’ve met them before. Teller came… I went to Muhlenberg College as an undergraduate, and there was an amazing course there taught by Dr. Larry Hass, it was on the art and theory of magic. And so, it was a philosophy course, but there was a lot of psychology in it, it was a performance piece, it culminated in a 15 to 20 minute performance. Anyway, and Teller came and taught a section of the course. But when they’re standing up on stage, the lights are bright, you can’t see a ton of the audience, it’s dimming your view, you’re up there. To be able to spot a handful of audience members and, based on their facial expressions, maybe based on their clapping, to be able to decide, “I think that person’s gonna be good,” is a really impressive and hard thing to do. And there’s always gonna be a risk that if they end up not being as ideal for this as you wanted them to be, how do you deal with this? And it takes some expertise on your end, as this performer, to be able to deal with that. And to be able to help a performer along.

1:10:10 Michael Port: Well, there’s the two parts, there’s the picking the right person, and then managing that person throughout, because somebody might come and try to take it over. And this is similar to Q&A, which is why we do a lot of work with students on how to answer Q&A because, for example, if somebody stands up when it’s time to ask questions and they say, “In my experience,” that’s not a question, they don’t have a question, they just wanna tell you what they think about X, Y, and Z, which is fine, but it’s not the right environment. So then, we need to be able to deal with this.

1:10:42 Michael Bernstein: And you can use non-verbals in Q&A. So I talk to my students a lot. My students are all undergraduate students, and so we take them to conferences with some regularity, where we scrape money together so they can afford to go. So we’re taking them to New York in a few months for a conference of the Eastern Psychological Association. And they’ll often talk about, “How do I deal with questioners? What do I do if somebody asks a question I don’t know the answer to?” And one, they’re always imagining it’s gonna be worse than it ever is. I’ve never seen a student get grilled. But we talk to them about there are cues that you can do to sort of let someone know, “I’m done with this question,” whether it be, “Hey, that’s a great question, thanks so much for asking.” And then, turning to look around to the rest of the audience, “Are there any other questions?”

1:11:24 Michael Bernstein: This is a cue that lets people know, “I’m done,” and it’s a very unusual audience member who says, “No, no, no, I’m not done with you.” And I’ve never had that happen. When I say, “That’s a great question, thank you very much,” and I start looking around, which is my non-verbal cue of, “I’m done with this.” And it’s a polite non-verbal, I’ve never had someone follow-up.

1:11:47 Michael Port: Well, you might have maybe more of a respectful audience. Because, in the world of professional public speaking, speakers get it all the time.

1:11:56 Michael Bernstein: Really?

1:11:56 Michael Port: It’s very interesting. And every once in awhile you’ll get somebody who’s just a little bit off.

1:12:00 Michael Bernstein: Yeah.

1:12:01 Michael Port: And they have a hard time picking up on either verbal or non-verbal cues. And one of the things that we try to teach is how to manage that situation without just using your words. Because if you need to raise your voice, or speak harshly, or engage in a debate with somebody verbally, it often reduces your power on stage. But if you can end a situation like that with non-verbals, it’s very powerful. And then one of the things that is also very important in any kind of public speaking situations, is that when we ask an audience to do something, so, “Okay, do this with the partner right now,” we don’t wanna bring them back using our voice, by saying, “Alright guys, come on back, come on back.” If you have five people in the room, that’s fine. But if you have a larger room, because often what happens, and this happened to one of my colleagues when he was giving a TED talk and I watched it, and I had my hands over my face, “Oh, no!” He gave them a great little exercise to do right at the beginning where they introduced each other, it was very cute, but he didn’t tell them how it’s gonna end. And there were 450 people in the audience.

1:13:16 Michael Port: So, after about maybe 30 seconds or so, he goes, “Alright guys, come on back. Guys? Guys, come on back. Guys, I only have 18 minutes!” And he got a little frustrated. So what we do is we say, “Listen, just do it like you did in kindergarten.” What you can do is say, “Here’s the how it’s gonna go, you can have this amount of time, and at the end, you’re gonna see me standing right here in this spot with my hand raised. And that’s your cue to do the exact same thing, to raise your hand, stop talking, and then immediately sit down. Now, if you see someone else’s hand raised, same thing.” And here’s the thing that’s amazing, even if you forget to tell them to do that, it still works, it takes longer but they’re going, “What’s that guy doing with his hand?”

1:14:00 Michael Bernstein: Yeah. Because now they’re, “I’m sorry, look, the person up on stage has their hand up.” And then what happens is the second one person raises their hand, and you can now go like… You give your thumbs up to them to just show them that like, “That’s what I wanted.” Everyone else reads it, because we’re social animals and we look to others to figure out how we should behaving, this is conformity. And we talk about conformity often as being bad, like, “Don’t conform. Be the anti-conformer.” And when we say that, what we will really mean is, “Don’t mindlessly do things just because someone else is doing it.” But it turns that sometimes we’re in situations where we don’t know how to behave, and we look to others. So, I got off…

1:14:34 Michael Port: Yeah, it makes sense.

1:14:35 Michael Bernstein: We went to Hong Kong a couple years ago, I gave a talk to the university there, I didn’t know… I’ve never been in the Hong Kong airport. What did I do? I followed everyone in front of me. Now if they have all been walking off the cliff, I would have stopped.

1:14:47 Michael Port: Yeah. [chuckle]

1:14:47 Michael Bernstein: Right? That’s mindless conformity. But I followed them all, we got out to where the taxis were, there’s three colored taxis, we didn’t know what to do. There’s red taxis, blue taxis and green taxis. It turns out that they mean different things, red taxis are going to the city, blue taxis are going to the countryside, green taxis I believe are going further out or onto the archipelago islands. We watched other people for a few minutes, and then eventually we asked someone to confirm, because we were perfectly happy to talk to someone. But we watch other people. So in that case, raising your hands and getting someone else to, and then the second person to, becomes an extremely powerful… People will start behaving in the ways, “I don’t know why I’m raising my hand, but everyone else is doing it.”

1:15:27 Michael Port: Yeah. You’re getting buy in, get buy in from one, then the next and the next. So, if people want to find you, to reach out to you is there a way that they contact you?

1:15:33 Michael Bernstein: Absolutely. I’m on email all the time. I use my university affiliation email and then my Gmail account, which beeps every time I get an email. I’m very fast. I tell my students that if I take more than about 24 hours to respond to an email, I’m probably in a ditch somewhere and that they should send help. But my email address is M, as in Michael, J, as in Jason, B, as in Bernstein, and then the number for Penn State University. And if you type in Michael J. Bernstein plus psychology, I’m pretty high up on there on the hits on Google, and you can find me at Penn State Abington.

1:16:06 Michael Port: So give them that email one more time?

1:16:07 Michael Bernstein: Sure. It’s, and I’m happy to talk to anyone about anything. I love my research, I love to help people, so I’m always happy to talk to people.

1:16:19 Michael Port: Michael thank you so much for being here, I appreciate it.

1:16:20 Michael Bernstein: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

1:16:22 Michael Port: So everybody, listen to Michael Bernstein and follow the cues. Listen, I hope you keep thinking bigger about who you are, and what you offer to the world. I love you very much, and not in a weird way. Well, maybe a little bit weird, but I do, I love you because you’re out there taking risks, you’re out there helping people, and you’re creating a legacy for yourself in the process. We’ll see you next time.