How Can Your Leadership Development Make Your Staff Smarter? With Expert Liz Wiseman

    How Can Your Leadership Development Make Your Staff Smarter? With Expert Liz Wiseman


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    With Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers

    Welcome to the Competitive Advantage Podcast. My guest today is Liz Wiseman. She is the founder and the president of The Wiseman Group. She’s also the author of the very popular book, Multipliers; How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter.  The book has just been released in its 2nd edition with new refreshed and new content including: 

    • Accidental Diminisher chapter
    • Dealing with Diminishers chapter
    • Building a Multiplier Culture section of the “Becoming a Multiplier” chapter.
    • Multipliers Experiments in appendix

    I spoke with Liz about her research over the past 8 years on what the best leaders do to build up the people around them.“The most intelligent leaders, really smart, capable people, don’t always engender intelligence in those around them,” says Wiseman. “Their presence as a leader costs the presence of others. They often take up too much space.”

    Wiseman calls these scene stealers “diminishers” and points out that when they walk into a room, it often goes quiet. Why? Because their employees know that the leader has to be the smartest person in the room. Wiseman jokes that anyone who has ever worked for even a week knows the type. But it’s not funny when you consider that Wiseman’s research shows that under diminishers, people work at 50% of their capability.



    Important Links About Liz Wiseman

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.


    The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, with Lolly Daskal

    The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, with Lolly Daskal

    Branding Blowout | The Leadership GapMy guest on today’s podcast is Lolly Daskal, CEO and founder of Lead from Within, a leadership consulting firm. Her extensive cross-cultural experience spans 14 countries, six languages and hundreds of companies. Lolly has also been designated a Top 50 leadership and management expert by Inc. magazine. I am particularly excited to interview her because her new book The Leadership Gap:What Gets Between You and Your Greatness will be released in May 2017 by Penguin Portfolio. In this episode Lolly talks about among other things, the polarity within us that keeps us from being great; the gaps we experience in our leadership greatness and how to bridge them, and how our strengths have a double-edged sword we need to be watchful of.

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    Branding Blowout | Lolly Daskal

    Lolly Daskal, Author of “The Leadership Gap”

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    Hear the episode of the Branding Blowout Podcast by using the player above OR Click to Download any Episode

    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    The Soul of Money with Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Guest Author Lynne Twist

    The Soul of Money with Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday Guest Author Lynne Twist

    On today’s podcast I am interviewing Lynne Twist, author of The Soul of Money and founder of the Soul of Money Institute. Lynne has been a guest on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday and is also a founding member of The Pachamama Alliance, an organization dedicated to rain forest preservation. On today’s show we will discuss branding in the non-profit world, and the significant role that money plays in our business and personal lives. Her book The Soul of Money, was re-released by the publisher, WW Norton, in May 2017. Listen to the Podcast here:

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    About Lynne TwistBB011 | Soul of Money with Lynne Twist

    For more than 40 years, Lynne Twist has been a recognized global visionary committed to alleviating poverty and hunger and supporting social justice and environmental sustainability.

    From working with Mother Teresa in Calcutta to the refugee camps in Ethiopia and the threatened rainforests of the Amazon, Lynne’s on-the-ground work has brought her a deep understanding of the social tapestry of the world and the historical landscape of the times we are living in.


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    Hear the episode of the Branding Blowout Podcast by using the player above OR Click to Download any Episode

    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    The Power of a Self Published Book to Build Your Brand

    The Power of a Self Published Book to Build Your Brand

    My guest on today’s episode is Joel Friedlander of Marin Bookworks. Joel is a blogger and book designer who was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. On today’s program we discuss the power of self publishing a book including:

    • The most important things you need to know about self publishing
    • The main differences between self publishing and traditional publishing
    • On demand print publishing
    • Major mistakes people who self publish make
    • What happens after a book is self published

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    The Power of a Self Published Book to Build Your Brand

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertHi, everyone. This is Karen. I want to welcome you to the Branding Blowout Podcast. In today’s show, we’re going to talk about the power of a self published book to build your brand. I’m very pleased to have as my guest Joel Friedlander. He is the CEO of Marin Bookworks. He’s also a self-published author himself, many times over. He’s a blogger and a book designer. He runs the website Joel, it is so nice to have you on the podcast.

    Thanks so much for inviting me, Karen. It’s great to be here.

    Thank you. It’s a pleasure. We’ve known each other a long time, and we’ve worked together on and off over many years. I have so much respect for the work you do. I thought you’d be a perfect person for this audience.

    I’m ready to go, Karen. Let’s dive in.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    Consider the power of a self published book and the work involved in it’s creation before you decide to go that route versus the traditional publishing route.

    Great. The first thing I want to do is I want to ask you, what are the most important things that you think people need to know about the power of a self published book, as opposed to traditional publishing, where they go to a publisher and they get paid in advance, etc.? What are those most important things people need to know about self-publishing?

    That’s a great question, because we have so many authors now who are really getting interested in self-publishing and a lot of traditionally published authors who have started to publish themselves as well. We call them hybrid authors.

    When you start to think about publishing your own books, you really have to take a self-inventory, I think. Being a self-publisher means that you are actually running a publishing business. You may only have one book, but you’re still a book publisher. That’s a really different thing from being an author.

    Authors are used to writing books and then turning them over to somebody else who does the whole publishing process and markets the books. The self-publisher is responsible at least for overseeing all of those processes. Besides the fact that you’re going to have to pay for the development of your books, so you need a budget, you’re also going to have to educate yourself about how books are made and sold.

    When thinking about getting into self-publishing, you have to ask yourself if you’re someone who would really enjoy that process. A lot of authors really do. They think it’s fantastic. You have complete control of your product, and you also have complete control of the profits. That’s a good thing.

    On the other hand, there are many people who don’t want to learn that stuff. They don’t want to spend the time studying book publishing or buying ISBNs. It’s really good to know whether you are someone who would be suitable for self-publishing or not.

    I think that’s such an important point, because what I’ve discovered is so many people want to write a book. They write it and then, as you said, they don’t know what to do with it. Then they’re confused or they’re upset or they do it badly, and the book doesn’t turn out to be what they wanted. I think that’s one of the issues.

    I also personally think one of the problems with self-publishing is you have a certain group of people out there, you’re one of them, there are other people I know, who are very effective at helping people get their books published, walk them through the process, or do it for them.

    There’re also a lot of people out there charging huge amounts of money claiming to know how to do that and either overcharging people or not really doing a good job. That’s one of the things that I run into that I really object to just on a moral basis.

    I run into that a lot too. I’ve been in book publishing a long time, longer than I’m going to admit to you today. I’ve been doing this a long time. What I’ve found is it’s not always that people are trying to scam you. There are scammers out there who are outright lying to you or trying to sell you basically a pig with lipstick on it. But really, the problem I find is the enthusiast.

    A writer writes a book, and then they think, “Wow, this is great. I could publish it myself.” They learn how to do that. They publish that book. Then they set themselves up as an expert, and they’re going to help every other author publish their books, but their total experience in book publishing is one book. That really doesn’t give you a lot of confidence.

    A lot of the advice that people are getting is shot through with misinformation and assumptions that may not be valid anymore because publishing has changed quite rapidly over the last 5 or 10 years. It’s really been a rollercoaster of a ride.

    I think that’s a really good point. I wasn’t implying that people were trying to scam people. I think you clarified it really much more accurately. But you have a lot of people who really don’t have an expertise hanging up a shingle, promoting themselves like experts. You’re right. It comes a lot from, they’ve done one thing, and they think they’re an expert.

    I think, in the world of publishing, just like in the world of branding and in the world of marketing that I’m in, things change really fast and you want someone who’s going to stay on top of all of those changes. Not someone who’s just done it once or twice.

    Also, I consult with authors quite a bit, as you do, Karen. Frequently, I get asked these questions like, “Should I learn how to be a graphic designer to lay out my book?” The fact of the matter is, if your pipes broke in your house, you wouldn’t go buy a book on plumbing, would you? You would call the plumber, because the plumber is the guy who deals with that stuff all day, every day. That’s what publishing professionals do.

    I think one of the great things about today’s self-publishing environment is that there is so much help available for people. Some publishers have downsized. We have a lot of freelance editors, developmental editors, copy editors, marketers, designers, cover designers. Any author who wants to could tap into those resources to create a really fantastic self-published book.

    I think that is such an important point, because you really do have a plethora of opportunities to get help with your book today. You have so many people with expertise who can help you.

    Joel, for the people who are not really familiar with the distinctions, can you talk a little bit about the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing? I’ll just say for me, for example, I just came out with my ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy.


    Thank you. It’s traditionally published. Entrepreneur did it, the people who do Entrepreneur Magazine, Entrepreneur Press. I’ve had nine books, but my books have all been traditionally published. I’ve actually personally never dipped my toe in the water of self-publishing. I understand the difference, of course, between the two, but I’d love to hear from your perspective what you think the main differences are between the powers of a self published book and then the power of traditional publishing.

    That’s a great question, Karen. There is a certain amount of confusion about this. We have a lot of authors who are intrigued by self-publishing, and many of them are traditionally published authors. We have a lot of people now who have books published both ways. We call them hybrid authors. I like to make this decision based on the individual book. Does the book need to be traditionally published? If not, self-publishing might be better.

    Basically, the difference is that in book publishing, a traditional publisher will pay to acquire the rights to publish your book that you wrote. They will pay you money. They will then use their staff of professional people to create the book, edit the book, position the book, market the book, and try to sell it and make a profit. That’s their business. They’re in the business to make money selling books to readers.

    A self-publisher takes over the role of the publisher. As a self-publisher, we have to pay to for the complete production of the book. On the other hand, we don’t have to split the profits with anyone. We get to control the project. Of course, we have to pay for the project. We have to learn how to produce a book, which the publishers already know. At the end, the payoff can be really, really good, because your cut of the profits is going to be much higher.

    What the traditionally published author gets from their publisher are two really key factors in addition to the expertise that goes into making and marketing the book. The first one is they get book distribution. In other words, the publisher can put that book in perhaps thousands of bookstores. Self-published authors have a pretty hard time getting any kind of distribution like that, so they sell their books by other means.

    Of course, traditionally published authors also will have access to media through their media operations, their publicity operation. Self-published authors have to create that for themselves. That’s a little bit of an outline of the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I hope that helps.

    The thing that I think I find is that with traditional publishing, you have oversight. You have someone looking to see the quality of the writing, the quality of the book. The bar is high. It’s not easy to get a book traditionally published today.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    The power of a self published book is that anyone can write one, but do they know how to produce a high quality book?

    With self-publishing, anyone can write a book. I personally find that there’re some really amazing, fantastic self-published books, but there’re also a lot of poorly written, poorly executed self-published books. I think that, in a way, drags the entire self-publishing field down. I’d love to know your feeling or opinion about that.

    That’s really interesting. We’ve been going back and forth on this question for years, of course. I actually have a different opinion. Most of the authors I deal with are trying to produce a very high-quality book. They’re trying to produce a book that could stand on the shelf next to the books from any traditional publisher in the world: Entrepreneur Press or Alfred Knopf or Random House. They’re going to attempt to produce a book of the same quality. That’s mostly the people I deal with every day.

    There are a lot of really, really bad self-published books out there. But even though I’m in this business, I look at this stuff every day, I very rarely run into them. People used to talk about this tsunami of crummy self-published books, but where is it? I don’t see them. I think that they’re really not that visible. People publish them, but nobody ever looks at them. Nobody reads them, and so they disappear without a trace.

    I think that’s a good point. The market squares itself off because the ones that are really good stay around, and the ones that aren’t just disappear.

    Yeah, absolutely. I’m really a proponent of people publishing their books. I want to make sure I’m clear about this, Karen, because you and I both know what a professional book looks like and how it’s created, because we’ve produced them and we’ve been in this industry. However, there are a lot of books that could be written and published that aren’t commercial but that would actually have a beneficial impact on our culture.

    I think that the stories that people have—the memoirs, the history, the family history, the ideas people have—I would love to see all of those books published. I am an out-and-out advocate for that kind of publishing. The difference is that the author has to understand: That’s not a commercial book. That’s fine. If you want to publish that and put it out there, maybe only 12 people will read it, but you know what? You might make 12 people insanely happy.

    I think that’s a successful publication, personally. I really encourage people to publish those books. It’s just different if you’re going to do it and you expect to make money doing it.

    That is such a great distinction. It’s one, I have to say, I’ve actually never made in quite the way you just said, which is that there are books that are very valuable to have published. They’re just not commercial properties. Know that.

    It’s funny because I ran into somebody the other day, and they said they were writing a book. I asked what it was about. They said it was the story of their life, blah, blah, blah. I said, “Are you planning on marketing it?” They said, “No, I really just wrote it for my grandkids and my family.” I thought, “That is such a cool idea,” that they did it for that. I think that’s one of the ways that book publishing can really be used. I’m not sure it’s being fully used to that capacity, Joel.

    Absolutely. Also, Karen, you have to realize, most of those books, we will never see. We’re not going to see those books. They’re out there; they’re almost like private publications, many of them. I’ve participated in a lot of publications like that over the years, helping authors get those books out. I love that kind of publishing. I don’t see anything the matter with it.

    I often think that my dad, to be honest with you, my dad was a printer, and he was a highly skilled person. He went into management eventually, but he had just amazing skills. When he passed away, all of his knowledge, all of his skills, all the stories he used to tell me, they went with him. I think about that. I think it’s great that people can publish this stuff and capture these very meaningful stories, moments, idea, opinions, whatever it is, and actually put them down on paper so other people can experience them too.

    I think that’s a really good point. I want to just switch tracks for a minute. Obviously, I do branding and marketing strategy and implementation with people, so I’m constantly working with clients on what their content marketing strategy is going to be. Very frequently, that is either a traditionally published book or an eBook, or a book that could be printed out, but generally it’s an eBook.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    Power of a self published book meets the power of a self published eBook.

    I find that one of the great advantages of a book like that is that it helps build that executive, entrepreneur, CEO, or start-up founder’s brand. I’m very big on using self-publishing, particularly eBooks, as a way to build a personal or a business brand. I’d love to know your feeling or take on that, the power of a self published book that is an eBook.

    Absolutely. We’ve always been publishing books for professionals. If you have somebody who is a subject matter expert or they are starting their own business or they want to really advance their career, being the author of a book on your subject is one of the most powerful things you could do for yourself.

    There’s no question about it. I think people get challenged then in terms of, How do they get the book out there? When I do work with authors on book marketing, and when I do my own book marketing, what I tell people is that it’s really become a marathon, not a sprint. It used to be, in the old days, that a book came out, you had a month. If you didn’t get it done in a month, the publisher was like, “That’s it. That was our window.”

    It’s funny, I was just talking to my publisher this morning, and she said, “No, this is a marathon. We’re in this for the long haul.” I think she understands, even as a traditional publisher, and I understand, and I hope authors understand, that it really is a marathon. If it’s for business, I say my book is an expensive business card. You use it to generate knowledge about who you are, knowledge about what you do.

    You use it to generate that way of getting out there in the world is probably the way I’d say it. That exposure, you use a book for that. I think that’s probably one of the best uses of self-publishing, because not everyone is going to get a deal with a publisher. There’s a pretty high bar, to get that today.

    I think those are great books to publish. These are books, obviously, where you’re not going to be able to get a book deal from a traditional publisher because they’re just simply not commercial books. They’re not books that are going to sell enough copies that a traditional publisher can make a profit. That does not mean they’re not worth publishing. They could be incredibly valuable.

    There was a survey years and years ago—geez, Karen, I think it was about 10 or 12 years ago—that said simply by publishing a book, any nonfiction author who was in business could expect to increase their income by over $100,000 over the course of their working life. I expect that’s probably a lot higher now, to be honest with you.

    Because if you’re a subject matter expert, if you’re somebody who really knows a lot about a certain field, having a book that acts as an introduction for you in business meetings, with your peers and colleagues, at speaking engagements, it’s just incredibly powerful that you are the author of that book. That’s going to cause you to stand out from your peers instantly, because you’re the guy who wrote the book.

    I agree with that. I think where I disagree a little bit is, and maybe I see it a little differently than you do because of what I do for a living, I still see a lot of businesspeople who will hand me a book and go, “This is my book.” It’s badly designed; it’s badly laid out; the cover isn’t professional. When I look at the writing, the writing isn’t professional; the writing isn’t up to standard. I think in traditional publishing, when you hand someone a traditionally published book, it’s met that criteria. I think with self-publishing, you really, really have to work hard to make sure that your book meets that expectation.

    I couldn’t agree more. Everything I’m saying is predicated on the basis that you have actually set yourself the goal of publishing a book that’s every bit as good as a book from a traditional publisher. We can do that now. The skills are available. It does take discipline and a commitment, but you can do it.

    I had a book recently from a world-famous photography teacher and photographer. This guy draws people from all over the world to come to his workshops, where he works one on one with people in small groups. He had produced a little book. He had somebody help him do it to give to all his workshop attendees and to distill his wisdom of all these years.

    Karen, the book looked very pretty, but it was done by somebody who had no idea what a book was supposed to look like. Just as an example, I’ll tell you that all of the page numbers were in the wrong places. In other words, all the right-hand pages had even page numbers and all the left-hand pages had odd page numbers. That’s really a bad thing.

    That’s a failure in a sense, in a way, because if I put that book in the hands of anybody who knows anything about books, they include book reviewers, book buyers, chain-store buyers, they’re going to look at that book and know instantly that that was produced by an amateur. That doesn’t give you a lot of confidence about the person handing you the book, does it?


    On the other hand, at the other end of the scheme of things in the self-publishing world, two years ago I did a book for a psychiatrist on psychiatric practice. That book won the best book of the year award from the British Medical Association. They consider both the formatting and the design as well as the content when they give these awards. If you looked at the list of award winners, you would find that this fellow’s book won and beat out books from Wiley, from McGraw-Hill, from every big medical book publisher in the world.

    I would assume it’s because the content was there, the quality of the content was there, the quality of the layout was there, and the quality of the overall design was there.

    One hundred percent. The actual positioning of the book, the way the book was manufactured, the writing, the editing, everything was top quality.

    That’s a really important point. You said it at the top of this podcast, that when people are self-publishing, they’re not just writing a book. It’s not just the writing of the book; it’s a product you’re actually producing. That book is a product, and it has a content quality piece, it has a visual quality piece, it has a layout quality piece, it has a positioning quality piece. Assuming you do all that right, self-publishing can be a really rich way to build your brand and build your business.

    Absolutely. Even more than a product, if you think about it, every book is almost like a little start-up, Karen. It’s got a brand of its own, it’s got a position of its own, it’s got a target market of its own. You are now running a little start-up business when you launch your book.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    The power of a self published book can be diminished when things like font and where the pages numbers go aren’t considered.

    That’s a really, really great way to talk about it. The other thing, and this is a huge pet peeve of mine, and I’m sure I’m going to get at least a few angry emails about this, but I’ll risk it, is I can’t tell you how tired I am of going to conferences and sitting down and talking to someone and saying, “What do you do?” They tell me and then they say, “I wrote a book.” I say, “Oh, that’s great. What was the book on?” Almost the first words out of their mouths are, “I’m a bestselling author.” I say, “Really? Where are you bestselling?” They’ll go, “Well, on Amazon.” I say, “Really? Like, the top 100 of all books on Amazon?” “No.”

    Of course what I find out is, it was one subcategory for one hour on Amazon. Within one category, it was a subcategory, and they sold three books, and they’re calling themselves a bestselling author. I personally have a huge problem with this.

    I have a huge problem with that in a slightly different way. I totally get that. As you may know, Karen, on my blog, I run a cover design competition for eBooks every month. We get hundreds of covers. One of my pet peeves is when people actually print on their cover “bestselling author.” That’s it. They just print “bestselling author.” They don’t say “New York Times bestselling author,” just “bestselling author.” That is so meaningless; I don’t even know why they put it on the book. When I see the little book, I know instantly that that’s a book produced by somebody who has no idea what they’re doing.

    A lot of my clients, and a lot of people I talk to, talk about using on-demand print publishing. In other words, they’re doing an eBook, and it’s got the capacity to be published as a hard book. They’re not, for example, doing what people used to do, which is printing a thousand of them and keeping them in their garage until 10 years later, when they’re all sold or gotten rid of. Talk a little bit, if you can, about on-demand print publishing.

    Print on demand is a really cool development. Print on demand, Karen, is really what led to the self-publishing revolution. Even before the Kindle was developed, when Lightning Source, basically an Ingram company, and they’re a big book distributor, opened up their print-on-demand facility, that’s what started to drive authors to self-publish, because print on demand eliminates most of the financial risk in book publishing.

    Before print on demand, you had to, as you said, go to a printer and buy X thousands of books. Believe me, you couldn’t really do book publishing with under 1,000 to 3,000 copies of a book, because the individual copies would just be too expensive. What did that mean? That we had to invest in the books, thousands of dollars to print the books. The printers won’t ship the books without your money. You have to warehouse the books, you have to fulfill them. It’s just a lot of work dealing with all of those big, heavy book cartons.

    Print on demand allows us to get rid of all of that. We don’t have to pay for any books up front, and we don’t have to store any books. They’re printed as they’re ordered. That’s a beautiful system. The problem is that the books from print-on-demand vendors are much more expensive than they are from offset vendors, offset printing, which is the way most books are printed from large publishers. That really restricts the kind of distribution and pricing you can do with your books.

    I love print on demand. I use it for all my own books because it’s just a perfect method for publishing books without risking a lot of your own money or having to warehouse books. All of the print-on-demand books have really improved in recent years. I would say right now, for most people, they’re indistinguishable from offset printed books, for the vast majority of buyers. It’s a great way to get to print without committing a lot of money, time, or storage space to doing so.

    That’s an excellent point, because it is more expensive when you do one at a time or one-off versus if you print a thousand books.

    It’s about double in most cases. My test book is usually a 200-page, 6×9 paperback. That’s about $3.50 unit cost in print on demand. It would be under $2 from an offset printer.

    Actually, that brings up a question. I know if I do a traditionally published book for a publisher, it’s at least 50,000 words, and that’s a short book. It’s at least 50,000. I’ve read some studies and statistics lately that people actually prefer shorter books. What do you think is too short for a book today, and what do you think is too long? At what point is it just a white paper versus actually an eBook?

    That’s pretty controversial, actually, Karen, because people are selling articles in the Kindle store as Kindle books. They’re really articles. They have to be labeled properly; otherwise Amazon gets a little upset about that.

    I don’t know where the lower limit is. It keeps floating down. In fact, I thought this was restricted to eBooks because, after all, what is an eBook? It’s hard to tell the difference between a 50-page eBook and a 500-page eBook. They kind of look the same. This is also happening in print books. I don’t know if you’ve seen these, but I’m getting more and more requests from people for small books, 5×7 books, 4×6 books.

    Booklets, I call them.

    Sixty pages of them, eighty pages. Is that a book? Is it a booklet? Is it a novella? I don’t really know. I found that there is an increasing appetite for small, short books. Maybe that’s due to our attention span; I don’t know. I think that the average size of books has been coming down. On the other hand, in the eBook world, there’s been some really interesting research, most of it done by Mark Coker at Smashwords. He publishes this research on his blog. He’s found that longer eBooks tend to sell better.

    When you say longer, can you tell us what you mean by longer?

    I would say over 50,000 words.



    Interesting. Even if they’re self-published, not traditionally published?

    Doesn’t matter. At Smashwords, all of his information is about self-published books because that’s the only books they deal with there. On the other hand, he has a very big sample size because he’s got over 100,000 authors publishing books through his company.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    Longer eBooks tend to sell better.

    That’s one of the other things I want to talk to you about. I met the CEO of Greenleaf the other day. I really liked her. I have several clients who’ve done books with them. I know people who have just done straight self-publishing, where they’ve done it themselves. There’re a lot of hybrids out there today. I want to know where you think the hybrids fit in and if you can maybe talk a little bit about what some of the hybrids are.

    There are a lot ways to publish a book these days. You could go up a scale. You could start off, “I’m a self-publisher; I’m going to do everything myself.” I don’t really recommend that because a lot of the parts that you’re going to do, you’re not really professionally trained in. You can hire end people. Maybe I know how to do the layout myself, but I’m going to hire a cover designer, an editor, and a publicist. You could put together a professional team.

    Another way is to use a company. We have a lot of companies now called assisted self-publishers. That’s probably the best option for people who are looking for a lot of help. The assisted self-publisher will offer you a package of services. You could choose from different packages. Included in the packages would be various amounts of editing time, cover design, and formatting. It’s all sold as a package of services.

    There are two very important criteria to consider and be really aware of when looking at these companies. One, who is the publisher? In the assisted self-publishing company, the author is the publisher. They’re going to set you up with your own publishing imprint and ISBN. That’s an International Standard Book Number you need for your book. You will be the publisher. For instance, I publish under the name Marin Bookworks. Those are my books.

    The next step up is the subsidy publisher. The subsidy publisher charges you a fee, and then they become the publisher. That’s our first important criteria when evaluating these companies. Who is the publisher? Is it the author or it is the company who’s publishing your book? In subsidy publishing, the company that publishes the book is the publisher.

    Sometimes that could be a good thing. Sometimes it’s a bad thing. The difference is, in self-publishing, we know that we’re paying the freight. We’re paying for all of these fees. If we go to an assisted self-publisher, we’re going to pay for their package. If we go to a subsidy publisher, we’re also going to buy some packages or services.

    Here’s my second important criteria: Who controls the retail price of the book? If you find yourself in a situation where you’re looking for help, and somebody is making you a really great offer, and all you have to do is turn over the manuscript and they’re going to do everything else, if you’re paying and you can’t control the retail price, my advice is to leave. Go elsewhere. It will not end well for you, most likely.

    I’ve had many, many clients over the years who got trapped in these subsidy publishing deals, and they needed a lawyer to get out of them. There are a lot of bad practices in the subsidy publishing field. I’m not going to go into them. That’s really a bad situation.

    On the other hand, if you’re paying, like with an assisted self-publishing company, but you get to control what the book looks like, the retail price, and who the publisher is, that’s fine. You’re just hiring help. I think that’s the best way to go for people who need a lot of help and don’t want to do it all themselves or end up hiring a lot of people, don’t feel competent picking vendors. Look, it’s not that easy, Karen.

    I think one of the hardest things for people is picking vendors. I get calls every day where people are upset because they hired someone and they weren’t happy. This is across the board, for all services. I’ve said this on other podcasts, but I think it bears saying again: The internet is a great equalizer. Anyone can hang up a shingle and say they’re anything.

    I think consumers, including book authors, really have to get much better educated, because people end up using people who really aren’t sufficient for what they need. As you said, most people aren’t intentionally trying to rip people off. That’s a very, very, very small percentage, people who are doing that.

    A lot of people may have the best intentions, but it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily competent at what they do. I think it’s really on authors to educate themselves about what are the standards for a book, and is this vendor an appropriate vendor, and why.

    I know that you’re a blogger, but you’re also a book designer. By the way, I just want to say, people can go to Joel’s website, which is As a book designer, I want to ask you, what are some of the worst, most common mistakes you see people making in book design, and what are some of the best elements to consider in book design?

    I really appreciate that question, Karen.

    I’m glad.

    I am a book designer. I did mention one of them, the thing about getting the page numbers on the wrong side of the book, that’s pretty bad. Another one is when you open a book, and there’s a right-hand page, and it’s completely blank. You don’t want that in your book; trust me. You just don’t want to do it. It’s fine to have a blank left-hand page, but it’s not fine to have a blank right-hand page.

    Another thing that many people do, and this often happens when people try to format their own books, is they’ll leave blank pages in the book, but the blank pages have a running head on them or a page number on the page and nothing else. That’s a really glaring error. You just don’t want to do that, ever.

    Another one would be, for instance, doing a serious nonfiction book and not justifying the type. The left side of the type column is straight and the right side is all over the place. If you start taking books off your shelf, you’re going to find that 99 out of 100 books on your shelf don’t look that way. You don’t want your book to look that way.

    The basic idea here is, with book design, and particularly the interior of the book, it’s fine to design it, but we don’t want readers noticing the design. We want to remove all the obstacles between the author and the reader and get out of that way of the author communicating whatever it is. Her story, her ideas, whatever it is. We want to make sure that the book is readable, there’s room to hold it, and it’s easy to look at. We just get out of the way.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    The way a page looks to the reader is where the power of a self published book, or any book, lies. | Image via Joel’s article on setting up a book page layout.

    Those are some really good points. What about book cover design, in terms of how the cover looks?

    Covers are really very important for most book sales.

    There important, and I think they’re hard. I think even in traditional publishing, I think book covers are hard.

    It’s really hard. Look at a 6×9 book. A 6×9 book has 54 square inches. That’s not a lot of room. That cover has to do a lot of different jobs. Right away, it becomes the brand of the book. People do a book cover, and then they do whole websites to match the branding of the book cover. That branding is really important.

    It’s very important that you really understand what is happening in the genre, category, or niche in which you’re publishing. You have to be super familiar with the books that do well in your field. Look at those books. Go and look at the top 100 books in your category on one of these big retailer sites. These are the books that have already shown that they are successful. People bought them. That’s the end result that we want to get.

    The cover has to communicate what’s in the book. It might have to tell a little bit about the tone of the book. That’s really important for fiction. In nonfiction, we want to explain and show graphically what the scope of the book is and what does it cover, who is it for? Frequently with nonfiction books, we put a lot of copy on the cover itself. We don’t do that in fiction books. That copy can be crucial.

    There are a lot of elements that go into a successful book cover. It has to be attention grabbing. It has to really hook the reader or the browser. Look, you only have maybe one or two seconds to actually grab people’s attention, if it’s the kind of book they’re looking for, anyway.

    If your book is boring, dull, has nothing of interest, it’s too dark to read, you can’t make out the images, or the designer has put the 12 most important scenes on the book on the cover, making them all ridiculously small and insignificant, none of that will help you. You need something clean and clear that really communicates quickly with the reader.

    I think those are all excellent points. Again, these are the small things people don’t think of. I think what happens is, people go, “I’m going to write a book. It’s going to help me build my brand,” which is true. But what they don’t realize is there’s this entire process. It’s not just the writing. Even the writing itself can be quite an undertaking. Do you ever feel that writing a book is damaging to someone’s brand?

    Well, I guess if they wrote a bad book and their brand had some kind of quality in it, that would be bad. If there was something objectionable in the book. I don’t think I’ve ever run into that. I think if you put out a book that’s substandard, if you put out a book that looks bad, has lots of errors in it, you could really damage your brand that way.

    Let’s talk a little bit about what happens after a book is published. You know as an author, and I know as an author, and we both know from working with authors that the book is done, but then you have this whole world of having to get it out there. Tell us a little bit about what happens after the book comes out and is ready and is on the shelf or in your hot hands.

    As much as possible, in self-publishing, we try to plan for that way before we even publish the book. Particularly for nonfiction authors, it’s really important to bake the marketing of the book into the book itself when you’re planning the book, writing the book, editing the book, producing the book, all of that time you’re going to spend. That could be a year, let’s say. That should all be timed with what happens after the book is published, that it is being planned and all that promotion is being set up.

    We often do book launches where we try to gather a lot of our promotional activity together into a short period of time. You were saying a month for traditional publishers. I’ve always found that that could be extended even father. For instance, I’ve run book review campaigns for a year after the book has been published.

    No. What I said was in the old days, you only had a month. Today, you can be doing book launches for a year.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    The Book Launch Toolkit

    Keep going. Why not? You can always be discovering new audiences who don’t know about you yet. That’s exciting. I put together something called the Book Launch Toolkit a couple years ago to help authors get the book out in front of a lot of people.

    The biggest obstacle for most new authors is obscurity. Anything you can do to overcome obscurity. You’ve published a book, but nobody knows about it? That’s going to go into your launch plan. It involves getting book reviews. It involves maybe getting interviews. Online, we do a lot of guest articles for blogs in our niche.

    If I write a book on typesetting, I’m going to go to my other buddies who write typesetting blogs and say, “Hey, I want to tell people about my new book. Can I write an article for you, come over to your blog, give away 10 copies . . .”

    Wait, Joel. I have to stop you. There are typesetting blogs?

    There aren’t many.

    Are there really?

    It’s a niche subject.


    Like any other niche subject. There are a number of typography blogs. Some of them have huge readerships too.


    Karen, look at my blog, The Book Designer. I started out basically writing about book design and production. That’s a pretty niche topic. I’ve got, today on my blog, 5,000 to 6,000 people a day.

    The thing that’s interesting to me about there being a blog on typesetting is that I could understand that, but it’s like, how much is there to say about it? It really shows you. That’s just because I’m not in that world. I’m sure there’s a lot to say about it; it’s just I’m not in that world. From outside that world, I go, “How much could you really say about it?”

    I think what that shows us is that there is a niche market for almost anything today. If you’re looking to build a brand in a niche market or you’re looking to be a thought leader in a niche market, writing a really highly targeted book for that market is one of the ways to do that.

    Absolutely. It’s been true for a long time, and it’s still true today. You can self-publish books now; it’s not such a big deal. It still works. It’s unbelievable.

    It’s very interesting. I want to ask you two questions I ask everyone when they come on to the podcast. The first one is, who is someone in your life who had a negative influence on you, and what did you learn from it or how did you handle it? I don’t want you to say the person’s name, obviously. I just want you to think of who they are.

    I can think of someone who had a negative influence on me. You want to know what was the good that came from them?

    Yeah. What did you learn from it, or how did you grow from it, or how did you handle it?

    When I was younger and I had a young family, I was taken advantage of by a landlord. I got pretty angry about that and ended up going to court and winning. At first I was just terrified. I was a young guy with a young baby and a wife. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought, “My life is over. I’m going to get sent to jail or something. Who knows?” You just dream up all this stuff.

    When I actually went to court and stood there and talked to the judge, I found that I was much calmer than I thought I would be. What I discovered, Karen, was that I had all the resources I needed to deal with that situation quickly and efficiently, and it ended up being a very positive thing. I had a whole new level of self-respect because I realized I could do that.

    That’s great. The second part of the question is, who’s someone in your life who’s made a positive difference, and what have you learned from them or gained from them? How have they contributed to you? If you want to say that person’s name, of course, that you’re welcome to do.

    That’s great. So many people have helped me over my lifetime. I always go back to my dad because I’m in a business that’s pretty similar to his. He was a printer. He was an apprentice. I used to love to watch him as he worked. His fingers, he seemed to have printer’s ink in his blood. His name is Roy, and he’s not with us any longer. What I learned from him was that if you stopped at the beginning of any project and really thought through what you were doing, you were much more likely to have a successful outcome.

    BB010 | Power of a self published book

    The Self Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide by Joel Friedlander

    That’s sounds so simple, but so many problems are caused by not doing that very simple thing.

    All you have to do is stop and think for a minute. Unbelievable.

    Hysterical. Joel, again, tell people, what’s the name of your most recent book, or the book you’d like people to know about?

    I have a great book out right now that’s directly related to this subject we’re talking about. I coauthored it with Betty Sargent. It’s called The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. It’s a compete introduction to self-publishing written by experts in the field with almost a thousand resource links to editors, cover designers, translators, publishers—anything you could need if you were a self-publisher. That’s The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide.

    Terrific. Joel, thank you so much. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you about the power of a self published book. I really appreciate your being on the podcast.

    Thanks for having me, Karen. It’s really been interesting talking about publishing. I hope this helps all your fans.

    Thank you.

    Important Links

    About Joel FriedlanderBB010 | Power of a self published book

    Joel Friedlander is an award-winning book designer, blogger, and writer. He speaks regularly at industry events and is the author of A Self-Publisher’s Companion, and the coauthor of The Self-Publisher’s Ultimate Resource Guide. The blogger behind TheBookDesigner, Joel is a columnist for Publishers Weekly, and was named by Writer’s Digest as one of the 10 people to follow in book publishing. Joel also operates, where he provides predesigned interior book templates for Word and InDesign;, where authors find digital products to help in their marketing and business activities; and, the only project planning tool specifically designed for indie authors.

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal to Build Their Brand

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal to Build Their Brand

    Anthony Meindl is the founder of AMAW and an international acting coach. Tony’s focus is on teaching actors how to get beyond the typical acting training which teachers actors to be someone else, and instead draw on their own unique way of being, and bring that into the role.  In today’s episode I explore with Tony the branding lessons entrepreneurs,  executives and CEO’s can steal from actors. 

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal to Build Their Brand

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertTony, thank you so much for joining me today to talk about acting lessons every entrepreneur should steal to build their brand. I am so thrilled that you could take the time to be with us.

    I’m excited to be here.

    I want to just let our guests know that you are somebody that I so admire. I met you because I’ve done a lot of amateur acting over the years, and a friend of mine, who’s a professional actress, was doing a workshop with you in New York that you were teaching, Chris. She had said, “You should come to this weekend workshop with Tony.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll try it.” I just felt so incredible with what you were doing because what you were doing was teaching actors how to be really authentic and how to be themselves, and I think a lot of acting training is about being something else and stepping into another role. You were teaching a kind of authenticity that I found parallel to the branding work I do with executives and CEOs, where it’s really not about making up some “brand” but it’s about being yourself. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about how you think that idea could be applied to entrepreneurs.

    I think you answered it there because I think we’re living in an age now where people have been talking about this forever. Constantly, the message is, “Be yourself. You just have to be yourself.” I think, weirdly enough, it seems to also be one of the most difficult things to be because we have a lot of judgments about who we are. We have shame based in our own personal experiences. We often grow up with stories in our heads or narratives that tells us we’re not enough. We live in a culture that I think promotes the idea that if we can become someone else or if we can adapt a role, then we’re going to make it.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal: learn how to be your authentic self.

    I think ultimately the people who break through or brands that are successful, whether it’s selling shoes or it’s an actual personality or music or actors, whatever it is, I think the common theme that I have discovered is that the person who is doing the creating, it’s authentically an extension of themselves. That’s what I teach. I think the work has reached a lot of other people who aren’t actors. My work has dovetailed into the spiritual community. I get emails from moms, stay-at-home moms in the Midwest, who are like, “Oh!” How to more authentically show up in your own life. I think that’s the key.

    I think what you said is really important for entrepreneurs, CEOs, and C-suite executives in terms of their personal brand and how they put their personal brand out in the world, which isn’t about some face that you put on. It’s about that it’s an authentic extension of yourself.

    Also, I think what I’ve learned is also, yes, we buy products, but I have found that the product becomes something that we’re interested in because of our own connection to it. I think that connections are built when people relate to us at a personal level. We’ve all sat in seminars or workshops or whatever where executives just kind of talk about their product or statistics or business or whatever it is, their brand or whatever it is, but there’s no real heart-felt connection to what it is that they’re saying.

    Then a different speaker gets up and makes the room alive because—again, whether it’s shoes or selling notebook paper—you can get anybody excited about anything if it’s infused with your own connection to it. I’ve learned that as a businessman myself. Even though I’m teaching actors, what I’ve learned is it doesn’t really matter if I’m selling acting to someone or I’m selling them clothing. It’s all the same at the end of the day. Somebody taught me that, a guy who really works with search engine optimization. He was basically saying, “The brand is you. It doesn’t really matter what you’re selling. Ultimately, you’re selling yourself.” That’s always stuck with me.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a hard sell. I’m not trying to hard sell anyone. I think passion really speaks volumes. If you really believe in what it is that you’re talking about, you’re going to enroll other people in a conversation about what it is that you’re talking about. You’ve worked with me. If I were just to talk to you about my program and the way that I work with people, I don’t ever feel like I have to hard sell it. I feel like I get so enthusiastic about what it is that we’re doing that people are like, “Oh my gosh; I have to check it out.” People who are working on their own brands or have their own company, that’s how they have to think in terms of connecting with their audience.

    I completely agree with what you’re saying. I notice that when I work with CEOs, often what they will say to me is, “I don’t want to brag.” It’s really interesting. I’ll be working with them on putting their brand out, and they’re worried about, “I don’t want to brag. I don’t want to seem like I’m really promoting myself.” I find that interesting, because actors love to brag about themselves. They don’t have that issue.

    Where is that line in your mind between this bragadocious, “Aren’t I great?” and “This is what I’ve done, and this is who I am,” versus that enthusiastic sharing? Because there is a line. We’ve all seen that line surpassed. Where do you see that line being?

    Are you ready for a mic drop? Because this is just what came into my mind. Because I have found that when somebody speaks passionately about whatever it is that they believe in, I think that the whole ego part of ourselves steps aside and that we become a channel for something else. When I am talking about acting, let’s say, obviously there’s always going to be ego. We’re living in an egoic body. There’s always going to be that part of who we are.

    However, I find that when I am in service, meaning, I really feel like the information that I have to share to people can change and better someone’s life, if I am really being in service and on purpose, then it doesn’t come from a place of ego. It really comes from a place of, “Somebody or something else is doing the work for me.”

    Look at Steve Jobs as a great example of it. I can’t speak to his personal life and the biographies about him. I do know when it came to creating all the things that he came up with and the design aesthetic of what he wanted Apple products to be, I think he was keenly aware of that thing that we all are a part of. It’s getting out of our own way and letting something some powerful . . .


    Yeah, be expressed through us.

    I think it’s so profound what you said. I so agree with that, which is if you’re speaking about what you’re doing, and what you’re being driven by is knowing that you have a deep contribution to make to other people, I think it’s really different than when you’re speaking about promoting how great you are. I think that’s the fundamental difference. Because you can take two people, and they’re saying the exact same thing, but if one knows that they’re doing it to be of service and the other is doing it to be of service to themselves versus someone else, I think it comes off completely differently.

    Yeah. I think you can ferret those people out in a way. I think most people have a good bullshit detector. I think you really don’t respond to that energetic the same way that it’s infused by someone who . . .

    Is committed to making a difference and committed to contributing. Yeah.

    At one level, my hope for humanity is, I think most people are oriented that way. I think that’s our nature. I think it’s in our DNA to want to create and share things that can make all of us more purposeful. We lose our track sometimes, and we get off our path, and we’re seduced sometimes by other aspects of business. I think that can also be a really interesting insight about, maybe for your listeners or your readers too, maybe they’ve lost connection with what it is that they really wanted to do to begin with when they started their business. That to me is also a challenge. I’ve been doing it for 20 years.


    How do you always make sure you’re in alignment with the real intention that you had created for yourself? You know what I mean? I think that’s really important.

    I do. I think sometimes that intention changes. I think just as everything else of business is organic and it grows, I think your purpose can shift.

    Yeah. Also, whether it’s working with a coach like yourself or doing work on oneself, I think you have to have awareness about that. Also, look, we’re living in a world now too where I think in business, you have to keep adapting. No matter what one’s brand is or what one is selling, it’s changing. You have to constantly, I think, keep evolving. I think that comes from awareness.

    It’s interesting because whenever I talk to people about branding, especially personal branding, what I’ll say is, “Your brand isn’t one thing. It’s not just this elevator speech. That’s not a personal brand.” That’s one piece of it but it’s really a lot more aspects of that. You have to understand and be self-aware of all those different aspects of your personal brand, because sometimes what you may be expressing is one part of the brand, another time it might be another one.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Your personal brand isn’t a one dimensional thing, there are many layers to it.

    My analogy I always use, or my metaphor, is when you go to the eye doctor and he puts that big, heavy, thick thing of glasses on you, and he keeps switching the lenses, and he or she will go, “Does it make it clear or fuzzy, clear or fuzzy?”

    Clear or fuzzy? Yeah.

    It’s like, a true personal brand has at least 7 or 8 of those lenses, not just one. I think that’s part of what you’re saying, that the depth of who we are and the authenticity of who we are isn’t just this one-dimensional thing that we express the same way all the time. It shifts over time. It changes over time. There’re different layers or different lenses to it.

    I don’t really know what more I can add about that. I think you’re right on. Who I was in my 20s is not who I am now. Again, I think it’s all awareness based. If you’re willing to continue to work on yourself and say yes to how things are evolving, I think it can be a really surprising, wonderful journey where you wake up one day and you’re like, “Whoa, this is not what I . . .”

    How did I get here?

    Yeah. You know what I mean? That’s really exciting.

    I do. I want to go back to one thing you said about when you’re focused on really contributing. I saw an interview on TV. Charlie Rose interviewed the producer of Hamilton, the musical. He also interviewed Lin . . . What’s his last name? The guy who wrote it?

    Lin-Manuel Miranda.

    Yeah, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I saw Lin-Manuel do that part on Broadway, and he’s fabulous, a really interesting guy. The producer said a fascinating thing, because Charlie Rose was asking about how you cast for a musical like that. The producer said, “We look for people, Lin and I look for people who can do the job. Of course you need someone who can sing the part, who can act the part, who’s right for the part.”

    He said, “But I’ll have to tell you,” he said, “We also look for somebody that . . . We’re going to be with that person in the theater, doing the show two and a half hours a night.” He goes, “But we look for somebody the other eight hours we can be with, who we want to be with, who we want to hang out with.” He said, “We look for people who, in between the shows, are people who we really resonate with.” Charlie Rose said, “How do you know who those people are?” He said, “It’s gotten to the point where I can tell as soon as they walk into the room.” I thought that was fascinating.

    That is definitely a principle in my line of work, where auditions really are made within the first 30 seconds. A lot of that has to do with whether your type is right, whether you walk in the room and you look like your headshot and you’re a match physically to what it is that they think they’re looking for. But also, yeah, one’s essence and one’s energy, which, you can’t change yourself to be all things for all people. That’s not what I’m saying. All you can do is just keep showing up as yourself and eventually, I do really believe that that authentic . . . It’s actually called presence.

    Presence is really what we’re talking about here, and there’s a lot of brain science that really supports it. Presence is not this airy fairy, ephemeral thing. It is really showing up, no matter what it is, with another person or giving a talk or being on the job. You’re really fully there. I think we’re so driven by distraction nowadays that we don’t really realize that it has a splintering effect. We used to call ourselves multitaskers, but now, not only are we multitasking, we’re also . . . I don’t even know what the word would be, because we have so many devices that we are also being disconnected with.

    I call it that we’re pathologically distracted.

    Yeah. It is true. I think we’re so connected, but we really lack connection.

    I do, I know exactly what you mean.

    We keep seeking it through the device. I think that authentically, people who show up with presence are people who are just there. They’re just there. I don’t need a scientist to tell me this, because I work with human beings. My social science is always right there in the room. I work with some really successful, well-known actors, of course, but also social media stars. These people are wanting to parlay that into acting careers. They have millions and millions and millions of followers on whatever platform it is, whether it’s Instagram, Vine, YouTube, or whatever.

    I have found that they themselves, this young generation, they have a very difficult time connecting and feeling. That’s because they were raised, from a very early age, to interface with technology. Their connection, which is really a form of disconnect, comes through a mobile device. Then when it comes to really, actually having to be with someone, they’re like, “This does not compute.”

    Not so skilled.

    Yeah. It’s a work in progress I have with them.

    Yeah. It’s interesting because there’s this picture that I show in my presentations on branding that I do. It’s a real picture that I took. I was standing in the train station in DC on my way to catch a train back to New York. There was a guy standing in front of me, a young guy, probably in his early 20s. He was standing in front of me in a business suit at Union Station. He had two PDAs: one in the right hand, one in the left. He was simultaneously texting and looking at both of them at the same time. I said, “Can I take a picture of you? If I don’t take a picture of your face, can I just have a picture of what you’re doing?” he said, “Sure, no problem.” I always say to people, “The title of this slide is, ‘This Is What We’re up Against,’” because it is.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    This is what we are up against in the battle for attention.

    I think one of the only things that can break through that, whether you’re a CEO, an executive, a small business owner, or an actor, I think one of the only things that really can break through that is true presence. Because I think presence kinda grabs people by the collar and makes them pay attention, because when there is that sense of presence—and I do a lot of work with executives on executive presence—it isn’t about showing up some “way.” It’s about showing up and being real and actually being present, which, as simple as that sounds, I think is probably one of the hardest things to do.

    I’m not sure we’re being taught how to do it. There’s no school of presence. Although it’s part of our hardwiring, it is the moment. I think oftentimes, our left brain is so consumed with mind chatter about, “Is this correct?” and, “How do I look?” and, “What is their perception?” and, “What are they thinking of me?” and, “Am I saying this correctly?” and, “What happens if I make a mistake?” and, “Am I getting my point across?” We’re so filled with the things that we think other people are thinking, and they’re not thinking it all, really.

    They’re too worried about themselves to be thinking that about you and me.

    Everybody’s thinking about themselves. It does erode our ability to just be. To me, presence comes from being and just the ability to be with people, which, that’s a skill that you develop by being with people more and more.

    I have to say, people don’t like to put it out there because they’re afraid of being rejected. I think for businesspeople, it’s just like going to an audition. When businesspeople pitch a potential client, they don’t like being rejected any more than an actor does. How do you think businesspeople can get over that feeling? I think to me, again, there’s a parallel.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal: learning to get over rejection.

    When you talk to actors about auditioning and how they get over that in auditioning, how can you apply that to business people when they’re trying to get over that same feeling in selling or pitching or presenting?

    I think it’s the same across the board; ultimately people and products get rejected, but I think it’s just never personal. I think that’s the most important thing, that you essentially are not the thing that you’re selling or talking about. It sounds almost like I’m contradicting myself, because at one level, all you have is yourself and what you bring to what it is that you’re talking about, whether it’s a form of artistry or a shoe you designed or whatever that is.

    At another level, I think the people that respond to you, I always feel like either people are going to get you are they’re not. If they’re not getting me, that really doesn’t have anything to do with me. That has to do with a number of variables that I have no control over. That’s my thought about that, Karen. Henry Ford talks a lot about that. Inventors talk a lot about people who, my god, you just keep going to bat and then eventually you break through. I don’t think anybody who is successful, like Steve Jobs—again, I’m using him—they keep moving on in the face of rejection. You start to learn that, “Oh, this has nothing to do with me.” It’s just not personal.

    I think that’s a really important part of it. I think the other part of it is . . . You and I know each other a little bit, and you’ve worked with me a little bit as an actor. I think one of the things that I always get really stumped by is that, it’s what you said about you show up a certain way because you bring a certain essence with you. I know a lot of people, I know a lot of business people, a lot of actors, a lot of CEOs, a lot of entrepreneurs, they get concerned about their essence and that their essence is showing up a way that they don’t want to be. They want to be some essence that they’re not.

    I know there are times in acting where I’ve gone, “Why am I always getting cast as either the sexy smoker or the funny sidekick?” It’s almost like in business, where I think people have this typecasting as well. I always find myself wondering, “Is it really that there’s a typecasting, or is it really that we’re a certain essence, and we just have to own the essence that we are?”

    That’s interesting. I think it’s a little bit of both. Certainly, we can’t ever be anybody but ourselves, so I think the journey that we’re on in life is to just more fully be, authentically be, who we are. The thing that comes to my mind is, I think in corporate America, although I think that’s starting to change, the CEO who they feel like they have to be at work is oftentimes maybe not the same person as the husband or wife or mom or dad at home on the weekends.

    At home. Absolutely.

    I think the thing that needs to start changing, and now more corporations are bringing in meditation teachers or they have more access to different modalities to get people to be just more human, I think is the goal. How do we bring that essence of who we are into the workplace and understand that that is also the ground of good work? We don’t have to be assholes and machines in order to be successful. It’s actually so weird to me because actually it’s counterintuitive. I get it; people are dealing with a lot of stress, etc. But why would one need to be such an ass? I can’t think of a better word.

    Yeah. Why would someone need to be so harsh, disrespectful, unkind? Yeah.

    It’s at cross purposes with what it is that you’re really wanting to get, which is more productivity from your employees and a more joyous workplace, which leads to greater creativity, which leads to greater collaboration and people who have other great ideas that help the product and help the business. It’s so interesting how in many ways, a lot of businesses from an old mindset structure are built from that hierarchal fear-based way of working.

    I think that’s changing. I think it’s changing in part because of what you’ve been talking about, which is this idea of the value of people’s presence is really starting to become more and more of an idea in business.

    I think it’s becoming more fluid, too, isn’t it? Because businesses are being created from home; people work on the road because of technology now. It’s just more fluid. The whole idea of, “My persona as this 9-to-5 person and then I’m different out of work,” that’s changing.

    That compartmentalization has been broken down by technology.

    Yeah, that’s totally it. I’m not advocating that people bring in all their baggage and craziness to work. That’s not what I’m talking about. I feel very grateful that my school is all over the world and our office, let’s say, and the people that I work with, it’s a very shared human experience. That’s what makes it just really cool. We can still do our work, but we’re able to share ourselves at a very human level. That makes it very gratifying. You know?

    I do.

    Everybody at the end of the day has dreams and hopes and aspirations and imaginations.


    And fears. I think sometimes we’re just reduced to concepts in the workplace. I think that that can be so counterproductive.

    I think what you’re saying is so important. I don’t know if you have this with actors, I’d be curious to know if you think it’s one of those acting lessons that every entrepreneur should steal. Oftentimes, again, I will deal with business people, and we’ll talk about their personal brand, and they will actually not be sure what their personal brand is or how to express it. I’ll ask them, “What do you think your brand is?” They’ll go, “I really don’t know.” Do you find that that happens with actors? When it does, how do you help people get clear on what that essence or their brand is as an actor?

    To me the obvious answer is the thing that they’re avoiding about themselves is the selling point of who they are. I find life is about us avoiding who it is that we essentially are, and then maybe as we continue to have awareness and consciousness, we have full-circle moments and we start to come back and accept ourselves. The parts that we reject are ultimately fundamentally the most important and creative aspects of who we are. That’s at a spiritual level, I would say that.

    I think, to make it more in terms of a brand, I also think it’s really great to have other people assist you in this. For a lot of actors who are denying a part of themselves or can’t see it, if they’re in a room with other people, we’ll have them get up, and then ironically, everybody in the room will see the same thing. You know what I mean?

    I know exactly what you mean.

    The thing that everybody else sees is the thing generally we don’t want to see in ourselves. It’s so easy because . . .

    It’s so easy, it’s hard.

    Yeah. Exactly. We don’t want to look in the mirror and see that, but other people can see it in us. That’s the similarity to me.

    I’ve been in your classes so I’ve seen that happen. I’ve seen that happen in corporations when I’ve worked with people or I’ve worked with teams or executives. Just to be devil’s advocate for a minute, there’s also ways that we are that get shaped by, not to get too psychological about it, but that get shaped by our childhood, how we grew up. They’re more like a false self, like a structure of a self that’s false. There’s another self that’s much more real.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal: finding your real and true self.

    I know that people sometimes will see the false self and not the real self. How do you help actors and how do you help people separate that? I think we could take a group of business people, and we could put them in a room, and you could do what you do with actors. Honestly, Tony, I don’t think it would be any different, nor any less valuable.

    No, it’s no different at all. I think we’ve already touched on it. I think the idea of the “business world” is, I think people view it as some sort of separate creature, animal, or machine in which people aren’t really allowed to authentically be who they are. That fundamentally gets in the way of doing business. I think that’s the major disconnect. I think that’s, again, it’s changing.

    Listen, every single person on the planet is a spiritual being having a human experience. We’re here for whatever time we have, all figuring it out. Nobody has it fully figured out. If somebody had it figured out, we’d have all signed up for it. Nobody has it figured out. Even the CEOs of these companies are just vamping. The President of the US, everybody at one level, is vamping. That’s also how we gain understanding. It’s trial and error. You risk, you attempt things, you fail. That’s the human variability factor. I don’t understand why that’s discounted in some business. I think that, to me, is the big disconnect.

    Again, just to draw a parallel to acting, since in the teaching that you do, I’ve heard you talk a lot about how you make strong choices. When you go to audition or when you go to do the role, you make strong choices. If those choices don’t work, you can correct them. I think the problem in business is if you make the strong choice and it fails, there can be an economic cost, right?


    That economic cost, that’s where I think there starts to be an impact. However, in terms of how you’re presenting yourself for who you’re being, you can take a chance of showing people who you really are. As you said earlier, if it fails or they don’t like you, well, then it’s just they didn’t like you and you move on.

    Karen, I also think surely there is a risk in anything failing anyway.


    If we’re putting a monetary end result to what would happen if we risked and failed, it may seem even more, we’re less likely to take the risk. But again, I don’t think businesses that are really successful became successful by not constantly taking risks. That also means they’ve also really failed along the way.

    I think there is no creativity and there is no success without the ebbing and flowing of things expanding and then contracting, and then growing and then slowly devolving. That’s life. Everything is but a metaphor or an extension of life itself. All these processes that are governing our own experience and our existence, why would we think that they don’t occur in art, in business, in relationships? It’s all the same.

    It’s all the same.

    Yeah. It’s between you and you.

    Exactly. That again brings me back to the earlier point I was asking about, which is, and I see this again a lot with executives, where they have this self that they’ve developed or this brand that they’ve developed, that it seems like it’s their essence, but there is really something underneath it. How do you get to what’s underneath it so that you’re not just stuck with what seems to be the brand or the essence on the surface?

    I always think when people share honestly the things that they have gone through or the things that they’re up against, that’s when one’s pure essence is revealed. I think, again, people that are hugely successful also do that. They share their trials, challenges, and fears and how they’ve overcome them. That’s also the teaching tool. Those are the people we’re inspired by.

    I think that human beings are so good at categorizing and compartmentalizing. We think all success must equal good and all failures must equal bad. Nothing is a vacuum of that absoluteness. I have to have challenges and struggles. The struggle is also so interesting to me. Without the struggle, where is the fight for life? I don’t think that you can take one part out just for something else. That’s my thought about that.

    Thank you. That’s actually really interesting. So I know we were talking about you as a teacher and how you teach actors, but as an entrepreneur, you’ve been very successful. You’re really killing it as an entrepreneur. Can you just talk a little bit about your school and what it’s called and what it does? Just a little bit about what you’re doing right now as an entrepreneur in your business.

    It’s called Anthony Meindl’s Actor’s Workshop. I’m based in LA. I started with six students. Now we have maybe one of the biggest, if not the biggest, scene study studios in LA. We also have schools in New York, London, Vancouver, and Sydney. I think we’re soon going to open one in Toronto.

    I just travel all over the world and lecture on a lot of these things that we’re talking about. I find that it’s all the same. I think at one level, everybody should take an acting class because you learn how to be more who you are. Which is, I think, really an amazing experience for people, to open up and realize that they’re not alone, that their challenges aren’t just specific to them, that everybody’s going through the same stuff and nobody really fully knows what they’re doing, which I think can be really freeing. That’s what I’m about. It’s exciting.

    I don’t feel like there’s really been a new shift of acting training since the 1940s and ’50s. Most acting training has come out of traditionally taught methodologies. What I have had the great good fortune of exploring is really thinking about creating in new ways based on our awareness of life principles now.

    You’ve also written a couple of books. Can you just talk a little bit about the books?

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    At Left Brain, Turn Right by Antony Meindl

    Yeah. My first book is called At Left Brain Turn Right. None of them are really acting books; it’s for all creatives. Again, the title says it all: how to get out of your left brain, how to get out of that side and live more fully present in the creative part. Not that the left brain is bad. They’re constantly interfacing with one another and communicating, and we need them both. We’re living in a world that is all left brain. We have to keep staying in the right hemisphere domain. So that’s At Left Brain Turn Right.

    My second book is called Alphabet Soup for Grown-Ups. It’s a really fun little book that, it’s an abecedarian book. Basically every chapter is a letter of the alphabet. It’s sort of these principles that we’re talking about in very short chapters. I have a new book out called Book the Effing Job. Again, it’s the most to specific to acting I guess I’ve ever written, but many, many people have Instagrammed me or Twittered me and said, “Wow, this is not just an acting book.” Those are my three books.

    Fabulous. It’s interesting. Because I was interviewing a guy on a podcast named David Nihill, and he’s got a book called FunnyBizz, or Do You Talk Funny? is the name of the book, and his company is FunnyBizz. He was telling me that he read a study that a huge percentage, and I don’t want to misquote it, so I won’t say the percentage, but a very large percentage of people who have won the Nobel Prize have some kind of performance in their background. Not necessarily professionally but even as just amateurs. Isn’t that fascinating?

    Yeah, that’s really, really great.

    We were talking about what you learn performing and that there’re things you learn performing. Like when you said everyone should take an acting class, I think everyone should take an acting class because what you learn . . . and I think everyone should, by the way, also have to do a play. Because I was talking about this with a friend of mine who’s in a play right now, because we were talking about how when you do a play, you learn about teamwork and cooperation and how other people depend on you. There’s a lot you learn when you do a play that are really valuable skills for business and for life.

    Yeah. And listening. Listening, to me, is one of the biggest—that’s the skill, for sure. I think it just taps into a whole aspect of play. The play is the thing.

    BB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Alphabet Soup for Grown Ups by Anthony Meindl

    The play is the thing. Who said that? Someone very famous.

    Tom Stoppard has a play called The Play Is the Thing.

    I think Shakespeare originally said it. I think Tom Stoppard borrowed it from Shakespeare.

    The listening thing is interesting. I want to talk about the listening thing a little bit, because as you know, I’ve been in your class, and you talk about listening. Honestly, I listen for a living. I swear to God, as an actor, I find that the freaking hardest thing to do. It is so hard to listen. I’m not sure why.

    I think partly because our minds are constantly on full blast and are always wanting to jump in and guide a conversation or make a statement. Out in the world, sometimes we try to drive it by showing how clever or smart or sexy we are. There’s that element of it. I think deep listening is also really uncomfortable for people because we fill that space with, again, all that chatter and noise. Nobody wants to admit that the stuff that’s going on in our brain makes humanity very, very neurotic. I don’t think that that’s our real state. Our real state is silence, is nothingness, really.

    I think the amazing thing about listening is it’s the ground of our being. All existence itself is simply being. It’s this reciprocal dance we’re having with life itself. We react to life, but we don’t really think about it in terms of, “What are we reacting to?” We’re reacting to something through listening, really. We’re receiving information, and then that information elicits a response. Everything is first created from that foundation of listening, or being is really it. Listening comes from being. It’s just really the most powerful place to be.

    I think what you just said; the problem is there’s that gap. There’s that moment where you listen, and then there’s that gap in between where you’re listening and what your response is. In there is this, even though it can be a millisecond, it’s this gigantic, enormous void of emptiness. You have to develop a tolerance for that void of emptiness, because you really won’t know what your response is until you’re done listening, and then it shows up.

    I think that discomfort, what you were talking about, I think that discomfort is what has actors, CEOs, business people, entrepreneurs, whomever, anyone, it has people be very pat and planned in what they’re going to say and that is an acting lessons every entrepreneur should steal.

    It’s the fear of the unknown, isn’t it? You’re living in those unknown spaces. That’s also where the potential is. When you hear somebody do such a rehearsed speech with no—I don’t know—there’s no margin for error because everything is rehearsed down to the last inch; it lacks any sense of life. Life is drained from it. Life itself is this spontaneous dance of the moment.

    Again, I’m not saying we have to get off script or go rogue. But I do think we have to learn how to live more in the unpredictability. It’s all unpredictable anyway. That’s the great “aha!” Nobody is in control. None of us are in control. We think we are because we drive nice cars, have a nice house, we’re making millions of dollars, or we’re the CEO of our own company. You are not in control. We just aren’t in control. That can be really terrifying for people at first, but then it can be really . . .

    Freeing. It could be really freeing also.

    A life-changing moment where they really get free realizing, “I don’t control any of it.” A hundred years from now, nobody who is on the planet right now will be here. It’s going to be a whole new generation of human beings.

    Amazing to think about it that way.

    That’s how impermanent we are.

    Yeah. Tony, thank you so much. I know how busy you are, traveling around the world. I really have enjoyed speaking to you, and I appreciate your being here to talk about acting lessons every entrepreneur should steal to build their brand. Thank you again.

    Important Links

    About Anthony MeindlBB009 | Acting Lessons Every Entrepreneur Should Steal

    Anthony Meindl is an award-winning writer, producer, director and actor whose first feature screenplay, THE WONDER GIRLS, was the Grand Prize Winning Feature Screenplay in the Slamdance Film Festival Screenplay Competition in 2007. Prior to this accomplishment, Meindl was responsible for the production of an array of award-winning projects. His background in acting, training, and performance has afforded him the opportunity to create what has become a thriving artist community in Los Angeles. THE WONDER GIRLS was also a semifinalist in the Vail Film Festival Screenplay Competition, and was listed in the top 10% of all screenplays entered in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship in 2007. The film is slated for production this fall.

    Meindl recently produced and directed a short film based on the award-winning English play, TOP GIRLS, and also produced, wrote, and directed his second 35-mm short film, READY? OK!, which was chosen as a Top-20 Finalist in the Planet Out Short Film Awards in conjunction with the Miami Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. The film was also a finalist for the “Best of the Fest” for the Indianapolis Gay & Lesbian Film Festival and has played at a dozen International film festivals including the Provincetown International Film Festival and the Los Angeles International Children’s Film Festival. The film was sold to MTV’s LOGO Network as part of their “Click List: Best in Short Film Series” and is on DVD as part of the series FIRST OUT 3.

    Meindl wrote/directed/produced a new TV pilot called BIRDS OF A FEATHER with actors at the studio. It has been nominated as “BEST PILOT” at the 2010 Banff World Television Festival.

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    Creating Your Own Personal Sound Bites

    Creating Your Own Personal Sound Bites

    Mastering the ability to create your own personal sound bites is about more than being entertaining; it’s about positioning your business and your brand to the media, and public at large. PR expert and media coach, Susan Harrow’s will discuss how the ever dwindling attention span of todays audiences requires you to use descriptive and well formed sound bites to get your message across. Learn the main types of sound bites, how to create them, and when to use them.

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    Creating Your Own Personal Sound Bites

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertHello, everyone! I’m so glad that you could join me today. 

    My guest is Susan Harrow. She is the founder of She’s a media coach. She’s also the author of the best-selling book, Sell Yourself without Selling Your Soul, which was published by Harper Collins.

    Hi, Susan! It’s so good to have you on the podcast!

    I’m proud to be here. Congratulations on your new book!

    Thank you! I’m really excited about it. You’ve written a book, so you know how it feels. It’s like having a baby.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul by Susan Harrow

    I think it’s like having twins.

    Exactly! It’s not by caesarean either.

    I’m really happy that you could take the time to join us. I just want to let the people know that you’re the president of You’re also the author of your latest book. Can you tell us about that?

    It’s the best-selling book called Selling Yourself without Selling Your Soul that is published by Harper Collins. It was the first and only, at that time, book for women who didn’t want to use aggressive language.

    There we go!

    Men love it too! I just want to say men felt left out, and they’re like, “We want it too! We want to be in on this!”

    You’re also a media coach, so you work with people on how they come across on television, radio, and interviews. Is that correct?

    What I do is I work with people so when they get booked in the media, it has a measurable effect on their business. It’s often doubling and tripling their sales and clients or customers. It’s not just about being entertaining and lively. It’s about really focusing on what your goals are, reaching those goals through mass media. It’s reaching thousands or millions of people.

    That’s really an important distinction. A lot of people, when they think about their personal brand, if they’re going to be interviewed, they think it’s just about being entertaining and well-spoken. You actually say that sound bites are something really you learn how to do, to actually position your business and your brand when you’re being interviewed.

    Everything from your words to your website is your brand. I know you think this is a funny long sentence. You will say, “Susan, don’t say that!” sometimes, but I do say, “It’s everything you do, say, are, and think. That also means how you treat the homeless guy when nobody is looking.”

    I think that is all part of your brand. Why sound bites are important, not only for media, but right now: We really have the attention of a tsetse fly. We are talking about a tweet-sized personal sound bite, but we’re also talking about how those sound bites have actually shrunk to our attention span, which is about three seconds.

    We have three seconds to get somebody’s attention. It means that we’ve got to capture their attention, and you’ve got to keep it. Those are two different skills. They have to be employed together in order to get what you want.

    I think you’ve talked about sound bites being one of the ways to do that. For people that, maybe, don’t have their own definition of personal sound bites, what’s your exact definition of a sound bite?

    I think Mark Twain said it best: It’s a minimum of sound and maximum of sense. It is really what personal sound bites really are; they are just your key messages in their shortest form. That doesn’t mean dumbing them down; it means the zen of simplicity. It’s really getting your message and your key points down to small stories. They can be also anecdotes, analogies, stories, statistics, facts, and even acronyms.

    You want to have a mix of those, and you want to have about six. It’s woven into the conversation; it’s not really the conversation itself. It’s how you weave them into a conversation in a natural way to get your point across.

    I’ll just give you a super simple example from one of my clients who is an expert in postpartum depression. A simple sentence might be something like, “When I speak to doctors, nurses, and health care professionals about women and postpartum depression, I say these five things.” So you’ve woven into the conversation that you give speeches to those particular audiences so they will know that they can hire you. It’s as simple and organic as that. Then, you move into the meat of your conversation, which is, “I tell them about these five things, which number one is moms think that they have to be perfect,” and so on.

    How do you do that so you don’t sound salesy?

    You practice.

    Like how you get to Carnegie Hall?

    You practice until it does sound natural. When it comes to you so easily, you don’t have to think. The problem is that when people are under pressure, when they’re in a media appearance, whether it’s radio, TV, or print, the pressure is on, particularly with TV. What happens is that cortisol is released in your brain. That blocks your short-term memory. You need to have your personal sound bites in your long-term memory so when you’re put under pressure, and you feel the freeze, you don’t.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    When creating your own personal sound bites, keep them short – under 3 seconds.


    Are there any elements that make personal sound bites effective?

    Yes. Here’s a simple format for your audience that anybody can do. If you’ll notice, you’ll hear it all the time on TV and radio. You’ll see it in print. It’s the strong headline, maybe a shocking one, that is something like — and I’m just making this up right now, but it’s probably close to it — “90% of Women Don’t Think They are Beautiful and Think They are too Fat.”

    There will be a shocking headline that uses a statistic, then you have three points, then there’s a wrap-up or epiphany. The wrap-up or epiphany after your three points is how you want to shape the thinking of your audience. You don’t really want to leave it up to them to guess what you are saying. People have different interpretations.

    This might sound really obvious, but when you only have a few seconds in personal sound bites, you want to make the most of it. You also want to shape that thinking. I might say at the end of those three points, “I think it’s such a shame, because women are so beautiful. If they have that kind of self-confidence, that affects not only their self-worth but their net worth.”

    You’re giving the audience the context you want them to have the point in.

    Exactly! You want to have that ready. An epiphany can be something that is part of thought leader-dom. Is it your opinion on how you want to shift thinking, or is it just something on how you want to make the final statement? So you make sure that people will really get your point.

    That’s a fantastic and great tip! As you know, I deal with a lot of executives and CEOs on their personal brands as well as entrepreneurs on their personal brands. I’m shocked how often I’ll say to a new client, “Tell me about what you do,” and they’ll either go into what I call brand confusion, which is they’ll stammer all over themselves and stumble — they can’t actually tell me about their personal brand and what they do — or they’ll go to brand complication: They can tell it to me, but it takes them an hour and a half.

    Exactly! You want that just to be in just 10 seconds. When somebody tells you what they do, you also want them to tell you why it’s great for you and why it benefits you. It’s not just a statement of what they do. “I do this” and such. What do you do for your clients and customers?

    I always work with people and say that you have to have what I call a “talking point.” It’s not just what you do. “I’m a dentist.” What do you do? “I’m a branding strategist.” What do you? “I’m a principal.”

    That’s true. It’s accurate. There’s also a talking point. It’s the deeper level of that, which is why do you do it? How did you get into it? What do you offer? What do you contribute? Having a short, easy, and quick way to say all those things is really important.

    A dentist might say, instead of “I’m a dentist,” he might say, “I make the experience in the dentist chair so fun that you can’t wait to come back,” or “I give you the most beautiful smile that you’ve ever had.”

    Everyone would know he’s lying if he or she is a dentist and they said, “I make people want to come back.” Never in the history of dentistry have I ever thought that happened. It’s nothing against dentists. I love them! It’s not exactly something you look forward to.

    They’ve got the good gas and some sweets afterwards.

    Some sweets? I never went to a dentist who gave me sugar after my dental appointment.

    You haven’t gone to the right dentist.

    There’s one place I disagree with that slightly. You know that I know that the brain works in patterns. It looks for patterns. I think sometimes people try to be clever at the top of it. When people say, “What do you do?” and their personal sound bites are something like, “Well, I make people’s teeth happier.” But people don’t really know what that is. Now, you’re making your listener really struggle in their minds. If they can’t find a pattern, they will stop listening.

    I personally think it’s really important to be straight at the top and have a sound bite, at least starting personal sound bites, that’s really straight: “I’m a dentist,” “I’m a lawyer,” so that people can fit it into a pattern. Once they can fit it into a pattern that they know, they would have more listening space to hear some of those other things. I’m just curious to hear your feedback on that.

    I agree with it. He might have said, “I’m a dentist whose clients can’t wait to get back in his chair.”

    If I met a dentist at a party and he or she said, “I’m a dentist, and my specialty is making sure people can’t wait to get back in the chair.” I’d be like, “Okay, dude. You have to tell me what you are doing.”

    Exactly! That’s one of the things that you want to create is intrigue. You might not want to tell the whole story. The other part of what you said that’s true is that if you have something incomprehensible… I just met, by the way, with a VC Firm. She said, “Have you worked with people who create software?” which is really sometimes difficult. Brand new software is difficult to explain. I said, “The key to talking about software is making the bridge between what people do know to what they don’t know.” You talk about something that people are comfortable with and get right away. Then, you make that bridge, analogy, or whatever it is to what they don’t know.

    That’s the key. It’s either making the bridge or creating an intriguing statement that gets you to say, “Wait a minute. Tell me more about your dentistry practices, because I’ve never looked forward to sitting in a dentist’s chair.”

    That really brings up an important point on personal sound bites, because a lot of times — it’s often with technical people, but it can be true to anybody — they talk in language and in terms that people really don’t understand. There’s no communication happening. I would assume that personal sound bites need to be said in a way that other people can understand them readily and easily.

    When I was speaking to this VC Firm about media training with the CEOs of the companies that they have given seed money to, that’s one of the first things we talked about. It was the fact that these businesses, number one, when they were going around for the second round of seed money, they didn’t have the story down that would make another VC give them that money.

    It really starts with creating an intriguing story that’s in English, that creates either a visual or something that’s tactile, that can be felt and created. One of the things I talked to them about, even in VC meetings, which are super boring, like a PowerPoint presentation, I said, “You know what? Make it visceral and tactile.”

    One of the great things about going on TV, which is a visual medium, is using props that shortcut your personal sound bites. They explain things that are hard to explain or might use technical jargon, and use tactile objects instead.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    “The narrative in the story is more what get’s you investments,” use your personal sound bites as stories to win investors over.

    It’s interesting because we’re talking about media trainings for CEOs, and I work a lot with start-up founders and CEOs about their brands. One of the things I found is so often when founders are presenting to VCs or other people, when they’re trying to raise capital, they are so focused on the facts that they often forget to tell the narrative in the story. It’s been my experience that the narrative in the story is more what gets you investments, more what gets people on your side than anything.

    You’re right. VCs want to know two things and two things only:

    1. Is the product viable, and will it make me a lot of money?
    2. Are you the person to lead the team?

    You have to be able to explain what it is that you have created and why it’s going to sell. Then, give them the confidence that you are the person who can make it happen. There are two levels of sound-biting; always the deepest one is your presence. How is the sum of your experience coming across (if it’s in person) facially, visually, your body language, your facial language, and your verbal language? It’s all of those things.

    The research is not three seconds that we sum you up. It’s a tenth of a second, whether we know, whether we like, trust, believe, and will buy from you. That’s shocking. It’s like a blink on steroids.

    Part of the sound bites is working on, and people don’t necessarily like to hear this, but it’s really working on and clearing up some of the kinks in your personality. I’d love you to keep the quirks but not the kinks.

    What’s the difference between kinks and quirks?

    Kinks are the things that are going to distract the audience from you and your message. Quirks are what make you original and interesting. When somebody has an interesting voice pattern in their way of speaking… I had one client, she paused in all the wrong places, but you would be sitting on the edge of your seat. I didn’t change that because it would be like you’d be waiting every time she pauses because it wasn’t in a typical spot.

    Whatever your quirks are, we want to keep them. If there are things that distract or that need to be smoothed over — that’s both language, body and facial language, as well as verbal language — that keeps people from believing and buying from you.

    It’s funny because I have my first TED Talk coming up. I’m very excited! I’ve been researching, looking at TED Talks, and I’ve got about six months before it is going to happen. I’ve been talking to someone who coaches people on TED Talks.

    Those TED Talks look so spontaneous, light, and easy. People spend an average of six months preparing for their TEDx Talk. It’s really intense, the amount of work that I found out people put into doing a TED or a TEDx Talk.

    That’s really true because since it’s so short, you need to make every moment count; it needs to be timed out and tested. That’s the same with your personal sound bites. I highly recommend that people should practice first, maybe with their sound-bite buddy. We assign a sound-bite buddy in my sound-bite course.

    If they’re hiring a media coach, I still recommend, when I work with CEOs, executives, authors, entrepreneurs, and coaches, that they practice in between, even if it’s just with their spouse. It’s in the saying of it, then getting out the video camera and really seeing what’s happening when you’re under pressure. It’s an advantage in two ways: The first part is you get to hear yourself speak naturally. The sound-bite buddy will start to pick out the jewels of what you say, because you don’t know what is going to land. That’s what an audience is for. That’s why you want to test your TED Talk: what’s landing and what’s not.

    The second part of this is, when you relax and speak in a natural way, what I found is everyone, without an exception, speaks brilliantly and can speak stories whole, because they’re not in their thinking brain. It’s like what happens to a jazz musician when he goes to improvisation. This is neuroscience; he goes to a different part of the brain that accesses nonconscious and subconscious things that are not available to the conscious brain and thinking brain.

    What I do in my media training session is have people relax and get them relaxed and casual enough where they get to this place. It makes the sound bites come out in this really beautiful way — sometimes, as I said, completely whole. Then, all we need to do is shape them, maybe, to either add details that are necessary or shave off details that are not, or change the order of things to make it more dramatic or more exciting.

    Essentially, people have a deep knowing in themselves as to what they want to say. I don’t create them. I don’t create personal sound bites for people. They create their personal sound bites, and I help them shape them so they’re most effective for their audience, so they sound natural and sound like themselves. Other media coaches give people ready-made sound bites. That is not good for your brand, because number one, you don’t know how to do it yourself. You don’t have some formulas, and you don’t understand how to do this.

    Whereas I’m showing people, “This is how I’m doing it.” I’m reverse-engineering it for them, so that you can do it yourself if you’re under pressure, or what happens, as we know, often in the media interview is that everything that you planned out — and I media train people — and timed out for the four minutes of the two-minute interview, for example, for TV and then, the show changes. They have a completely different personal sound bites.

    They have one minute. That has happened to me so many times, I can’t even tell you. One of the things you said that’s really important is this thing about someone else should not give you your sound bite. Now they can work with you and help you shape your sound bites, but they really have to be authentic and come from yourself.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    Practice saying your personal sound bites before doing media interviews and speaking engagements. | Image via UNClimateChange on Flickr

    I know when I work with CEOs on their brand or when I work with executives or entrepreneurs on their brand, it’s never something I’m making up for them. It’s always something I’m leading them to finding for themselves. I might help shape it in language so that it sounds good, so that it works in terms of being impactful. It’s really authentic from them. If something’s authentic from someone, there’s also nothing to remember because it comes from you. There isn’t something that you have to remember.

    That’s true. It’s not about remembering or conjuring someone else’s language. It’s about shaping your own language, being comfortable with that, being able to deliver it in a very tiny way in a very short amount of time.

    It’s a totally different way of speaking because it’s taking War and Peace and turning it into a haiku. We’re not used to that. We’re used to your CEOs who ramble on for an hour. That’s War and Peace; we don’t want to hear it.

    That’s one of the things people find a lot of trouble with is saying things in a short fashion. There is a joke that as writers, it is much harder to write something short than it is to write something long.

    It is, “If I would have had the time, I would have written a shorter letter.”

    Now is it Mark Twain who said that?

    No, I think it’s another writer or poet or something who said that. I can’t remember who.

    I think this thing about really long explanations, and when you’re on a podcast, you are talking, and you have time; fine. But when you are getting interviewed on TV, and you and I have both been interviewed on TV, it’s like, boom! Boom! Boom! They will just cut you off. If you don’t get to your point, you will just get cut off by the interviewer.

    That’s absolutely true. That’s why on TV, it’s usually about 10 seconds. When I train to TV, we do time it out exactly. We plan for them to talk more, the hosts or other guests, so we have to be flexible and versatile enough to have what I call modular sound bites. If you only had your 10 seconds, you could headline something. You wouldn’t feel bad that you hadn’t done your job if you got cut off.

    You know what your bottom lines are.

    You always want to say the most important things first so if you get cut off, you can still feel happy about yourself and realize that it will be good for your business.

    As much as I’ve done TV interviews, I’m shocked at how much pressure you get under. I just did one the other day on MSNBC, and like I said, I’ve done lots and lots of TV. I was like a wreck! I wasn’t a wreck on the show. Nobody could see it, but it’s pressure filled.

    Sometimes, I’m a wreck too! It’s pressure filled, and then they do the countdown. The lights flash on, and you’re blinded. You’re blinded by the lights. Then, they flip a question that you haven’t planned either.

    I was going to say it. They will not ask you one question that they told you they were going to ask you.

    Even if they practiced it with you in the green room, “Here’s what I’m going to ask you,” and they rehearsed the whole thing. But when you go out there, it’s like, “5, 4, 3, 2, 1!” The lights are on. They flip this new question on you, and you’re like, “What?!”

    This is the strategy I’ve used, and you have to tell me if I’ve been doing the wrong strategy or not. The strategy I have is this: I know the main points I want to make. Even if they ask me a question that is not related to the answers I have, I’ll quickly give them an answer, and then I’ll do a bridge to the point that I want to make.

    Sometimes, you don’t even have to do the quick answer. A bridge that you can say, that can save your skin in many circumstances, is this: “I don’t know about that, but what I do know is…” If somebody asks you a totally off-the-wall question, you could say that: “I don’t know about that, but what I do know is…” Everyone should get media training, because it’s really great for people in closing clients or getting your kids to pick up their clothes. Media training is for everyone.

    First, you’ve told us there are dentists who have people that want to come back, and now you’re telling us that there are people who can get their kids to pick up their clothes. I’m sorry, Susan. You’re not living on the same planet!

    I am! By the way, it’s how they train dogs too. I’m not saying that media training is like training a dog, but I love this media training where you only tell the dog to do something once. You do not repeat yourself over and over again, which is a big issue with parents. Media training is for parents as well to handle them.

    Yes I told my dog to “Sit!” when I came home with some friends. I was like, “Look at this. This dog knows when to sit when I say to sit!” Then the dog wouldn’t sit, and I would say, “Sit.” So I kept saying, “Sit! Sit!” Then the dog would sit, so I was like, “Okay, who’s training who?” The wife turned to me, of the couple that was at my house, and she said, “Never say it more than once to the dog,” which is what you’re saying.

    I’m not sure. Why you do not say it more than once?

    Because they won’t take you seriously.

    Tell me how that translates to being interviewed and using sound bites.

    Often times in a media interview, someone will ask you a question that you don’t want to answer over and over again. In that regard, it doesn’t apply to that, but you can shut someone down. I don’t recommend that you use this as a first technique, but if somebody asks you something that you don’t want to speak about, then you make that bridge to something that you do. But if they continue to press you on that, and you don’t want to speak about it, you can shut them down immediately by saying, like, “That might be a super great question for me to answer, but I’m not going to answer that.”

    I think times that you have to do that are very rare.

    It is rare. It is. Most of the time, that’s more of a hard news…

    Political situation, crisis situation. I can’t think of any time I’ve ever had do say that. I bet you probably can’t think of a time that you’ve ever had to say that.

    No, but Terry Gross on Fresh Air, who’s a master of that, she will always say to people ahead of time, “I may ask you some questions. Feel free not to answer them if you feel that they are too personal.” I have heard people on her program, when she’s asked a personal question, say, “I’d rather not answer that.”

    I’ve heard that as well.

    It’s also super important about your tone when you’re saying something like that. If you say it in a neutral way, it’s totally fine. If you’re saying it with lots of slack and attitude, it’s something else entirely. I always recommend that you maintain your equanimity. Even if you’re not going to answer a question, you don’t answer with grace.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    Media training is an important part of using personal sound bites.

    Lots of entrepreneurs, CEOs, and executives are on TV and radio. They get interviewed. A lot aren’t and a lot don’t. How do they use personal sound bites in their everyday working world?

    You can use personal sound bites in your bio, for one thing, because the same principles of sound bites apply to your bio, which is: “What are you going to give your audience, and why is your background important to them?”

    One of the most common sound bites is your story of origin: Why do you do what you do? Everyone is going to ask you that at some point, like when you start your business, whether you’ve written a book — why you do what you do. You want to have your story of origin. There are a lot of beginnings of stories of origin. Sometimes, it comes from a childhood love. Sometimes, it comes from an ah-ha moment.

    I call that the signature story with my clients in the brand mapping process. That’s the signature story. I think we’re talking about the same thing.

    Yes, exactly.

    It really is the, “What drives you to do what you do?” I’m going to tell you that I’m really shocked at how many people say to me, “Why would I want to tell the people about that story? I don’t want to tell them that story. Don’t you think it would be weird if I tell them that story?” No, I think it would be engaging and great. I am shocked at how many people are slightly hesitant to tell what that signature story and story of origin is.

    Some people think it’s too personal. Other people don’t think it’s important. They don’t understand the importance of that. We want to know what makes you tick.

    I remember Burt Reynolds saying a long time ago, “People are more interested in me than in my book.” In this day and age, especially now, we are more interested in your selfies than we are in your manufactured pictures. Of course some selfies are now manufactured and tarted up. However, what we want to see is you in the raw. We want to see you naked. We want you to be vulnerable.

    There’s a difference between vulnerable and sentimental. We don’t want you to be sentimental, we want you to be vulnerable, but we don’t want you to call it out. One of the worst things people can do, and it is a trend right now, is where they are like, “I’m being so vulnerable now.” And I go, “I’ve got to take my fingers out of my throat right now.” Do not ever do this.

    You should never say, “I’m being vulnerable now.”

    No, but I can’t tell you how many people say that.

    It’s interesting. So you don’t want to announce your vulnerability. You want to be able to express it in such a way that it’s connecting to another person in humanity. We want you to tell the true story of your origin with the hardships, how you overcame them, or didn’t. We also want to relate to not overcoming them.

    BB007 | Personal sound bites

    Image via YouTube

    I just saw a hilarious video from Brené Brown. It’s how she blamed spilling her second cup of coffee on her husband, It was hilarious. Brené Brown, who’s an expert on vulnerability and all of this, is still blaming her husband for spilling her coffee in the morning. We love her for that. She was super funny while she was telling it. You can either be moving with your vulnerabilities or you could be funny with it. We want to see behind the curtains of Oz.

    That’s really true. When people say things like, “I’m being vulnerable,” no, they are not. You wouldn’t say that when you’re being vulnerable.

    You never want to say, “I’m being honest,” because it’s like, “Well when were you not?”

    You never want to say that this is a true story.

    No, you don’t. It’s like, “True to what?” In my writing group every week, we are like, “Is it true to the facts or true to the feelings?” We have to figure out, what do we leave out and what do we put in, and what is honest while we are still leaving things out, and what is necessary for the audience?

    That’s the number one thing. You and I have talked about this a lot, Karen. There are really three things that are the foundation of your sound bite. Number one is: How do you want to serve? What’s your big vision in the world? How do you want to make an impact and leave a legacy?

    Then number two should be: What do you want for yourself? That is financially, spiritually, emotionally, personally, and professionally. All of that should be in the mix. That should be really quantified. Do you want more speaking engagements? Do you want to meet the Dalai Lama? What do you want to do in your life? All of that can be accomplished through media.

    The last thing is: What do you want your audience to do? What actions do you want them to take? Do you want to change their mind? Are you driving them to your website? Do you want them to donate to your cause? Do you want them to buy your programs and products? How are they going to do that? Could it be through your website, your phone, or walking in to your brick and mortar? You have to tell them how to do these.

    Those are the three things that are encompassed in what you are going to say in your foundational sound bite. It drives your sound bites. That’s the foundation for them before you ever create them.

    Those three are really important. Those are things that people often don’t think through because we are so informationally driven. People tend to frame their personal sound bites for the most part as the information they are going to give. While I’m a huge fan of giving good information, that’s not all that there is. There are some of these other things to consider and think about in crafting sound bites.

    The ultimate goal of speaking in sound bites is the deeper meaning of what you want to accomplish in your life and what mark you want to make in the world. That’s what really sound bites are for. It’s through our verbal language as much as it is obviously our presence. It’s a combination of those two things that are going to move your business and yourself forward into the circles, the business that you want, or the way that you want to walk through the world. That’s why sound bites are important. They’re an ambassador of our spirit. They do need to be combined with your presence. You can be a verbal acrobat, but if you don’t have the solid presence behind it, I don’t think it does any good.

    On the other side of it, if you have a really strong and amazing presence, your personal sound bites can be so-so and your presence will carry the day.

    I agree with you, and I wholeheartedly agree with that.

    I remember you and I were talking about a clip or something, and you said, “What that person has is the likeability factor.” It was such a great way to say it. It’s true; if you are likeable, you can get away with a lot more in terms of how you talk. If you have great personal sound bites and you’re likeable now, you have a winning combination.

    There’s that very famous Gallup poll in terms of likeability of candidates. I can’t remember the right statistics, but it’s the likeable candidates who always win.

    It’s interesting!

    Likeability is more important than policy.

    I know that you have a lot of paid and also free things that people can get on your website to learn about some of these ways to create personal sound bites. It’s There are lots of good things on this site. I want to ask you the three questions I’ve been asking everyone. They don’t have to do with creating personal sound bites. They’re really personal. You can feel free to say, “I’m not going to answer that.”

    Sure! Can I say one more thing? A couple of things will really be valuable to your audience about my website. The first one is the hundred-word email that will get the media to immediately call you because it’s so short. I have a format in there. All of you can get media attention in a snap just by using that formula. That’s free. It’s right on the homepage.

    Terrific. Thanks!

    Who’s one person in your life who had a positive influence on you? What impact did that influence have?

    I have to say right now, it’s my sensei. I’m a black belter in aikido, and you know that was a very hard journey. Nobody ever thought I could go that far, including myself. It’s because he embodies what he does and what he says; there’s no contradiction. That is so rare. He doesn’t have an ego.

    To me, to be able to have a great sense of humor, do Aikido with joy, be a master over your own body and mind — that is my ultimate goal. I’m very far away from that. He’s a very great example of a real-life person.

    Who’s someone in your life who had a negative influence on you? How did that impact you? Don’t say the person’s name!

    It was a tennis camp that I taught at that I was asked to teach after I trained very hard. I was also a tennis pro, a teaching pro. I was not a playing pro before that. They asked me to come back and teach. I was very young; I was 16. I had to teach people who were my peers; I was always getting into trouble with them. I was always with troublemakers, doing things, playing pranks.

    That person who ran the tennis camp, suddenly, one day, no one would talk to me on the team. They wouldn’t tell me what I had done. One teacher finally said, “I’m sorry; we’re instructed not to talk to you anymore.” I had no idea what I did wrong. No one who ran the organization would tell me, but they didn’t fire me. No one would speak to me anymore. I had to continue to teach in that atmosphere where no one would speak to me anymore. I had no idea what I had done.

    I think, in that kind of circumstance, I thought that was so cowardly. I wish one day I would have confronted him. The man was an army man, very stern. I wish, looking back at my sixteen-year-old self, that I’d had the nerve to confront him and say, “At least tell me why you’ve done this.” I thought about it many times. I never actually did it. Right now, what’s super important to me always is to stand up for what you believe and to really speak out.

    My logo, or whatever you want to call it, is, “Speak your mind, stand your ground, sing your song.” I think, ultimately, that whenever people come to me, what I’m teaching them about is how to speak out under any circumstance, or if someone has done you injustice or done an injustice to anyone else, you speak out.

    You may have said this. If you have one piece of advice that you could give right now to your younger self, what would it be?

    Love your body.

    Oh, that’s good!

    I mean, I think we are a nation of self-haters, particularly women, internally in the United States. I don’t think it’s so much so in Europe. I’ve met many women who love their bodies outside of the U.S. How can we totally step into our full presence and who we are if we’re not in our bodies and loving them too?

    Fabulous! It’s always fun to talk to you.

    Thank you so much! It’s such a joy!

    Thank you!

    Thank you for joining me today. Again, my guest has been Susan Harrow. She is the president of We’ve been talking about creating your personal brand sound bites. 

    Important Links

    BB007 | Personal sound bitesAbout Susan Harrow – Media Coach and Author of Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul

    Susan Harrow is a top media coach, PR expert & author of the best-selling book Sell Yourself Without Selling Your Soul (HarperCollins). For the past 25 years she has shown her clients (CEOs, celebrity chefs, entrepreneurs, authors, speakers, coaches and socially conscious businesses) and course participants how to double or triple their business with PR by using sound bites effectively. She’s helped clients shine on Oprah, CBS’ 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and in the New York Times, Inc., O, Parade, People, Vogue etc. What you might not know is that she’s a black belt in Aikido, and was almost sold into slavery by a Bedouin Sheik in Israel for 10 camels and a mule.

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    Using a Book to Grow Your Brand

    Using a Book to Grow Your Brand

    Tanya Hall CEO of Green Leaf Book Group discussed how to use a book to grow your personal, business or CEO brand. By adopting the best of both traditional and self-publishing methods, any author (be they a first timer or best selling scribe) can gain greater and brand recognition. We will discuss how to determine if your content is right for a book, and the biggest publishing mishaps to avoid.

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    Using a Book to Grow Your Brand

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertHi everyone; welcome! My guest today is Tanya Hall, CEO of Greenleaf Book Group, and we are going to talk to us today about using a book to grow your brand.

    Hi, Tanya. So glad you could join me today.

    Hi, Karen. I am glad to be here. Thanks for having me.

    It is my pleasure. We met at the American Society of Authors and Journalists Conference a couple of months ago, and I sat in on a talk that you gave. I was really impressed with what you had to say. Of course, I was very familiar with your company, Greenleaf Book Group, and I thought that you would be a perfect person to have on the podcast.

    Thank you. Yes, that was an awesome event; I was happy to be there. I met a lot of really interesting and qualified writers. It was my first time there in an event that I would recommend to anybody who is dabbling in the writing world, or in the brand positioning world. There’s a lot to learn there.

    BB006 | Using a book to grow your brand

    Greenleaf Book Group knows all about using a book to grow your brand.

    I agree. I wanted to talk to you today about using a book to grow your brand. I think an appropriate way to start that is to talk a little bit about what Greenleaf is and what they do and who your clients are, and take it away with that, if you don’t mind.

    Greenleaf Book Group is a publisher and distributor for independent authors and small presses. We have been around since 1997, so we are on the cusp of our 20-year anniversary, which is fun. It just dawned on us the other day that we need to start planning a party. What makes us different is that we are one of the first of what they call hybrid publishers. Our business model is in between the worlds of self-publishing and traditional publishing, with the intention of bringing the authors the benefits of each of those models while eliminating the downfalls of both. From the self-publishing side, our authors do invest in the production of their books, so they are essentially buying their inventory. Because of that, it is basically like bootstrapping versus venture capital for by business folks. They are putting money in on the front end so they keep the lion’s share of the royalties on the backend, which means they have to be comfortable with bearing that risk, but it’s up to them.

    It is a model that works really well for people who have a strong direct sales platform, whether they are speakers or consultants, because they do not need to buy their books back from their publishers. Just like on the self-publishing side, they have the creative control, they have the ownership, they have the speed to market, but operationally we are very much like a traditional publisher. We deal directly with the airport accounts, with Barnes and Nobles. The muscle at the core of Greenleaf Book Group is our distribution system. It is very much like a traditional house in terms of the vetting process on the front end. We have a staff of 40 people here in Austin that work on developing the books and taking it all the way from editorial to design, marketing, and distribution. Branding plays a huge part in this all through those elements, because we want to make sure that there is a consistent message and audience that we are speaking to throughout.

    It is definitely a unique business model, and one that people are increasingly finding refreshing, given that it used to be only two choices: Go at it alone in the self-publishing world or give up perhaps more control, time, and money than you would want to on the traditional side. It is not for everybody, of course. I don’t believe there’s any right or wrong way to publish. Well, actually, there might be a wrong way to publish.

    Publishing badly is a wrong way.

    It is just about fit and you making a business decision on which priorities are kind of leading your list. Then, hopefully, finding the right fit from there.

    Do you know approximately how many books you’ve published in the history of your company?

    It is definitely thousands. We do 120 or 150 a year, and we have been doing that consistently year to year. I have been here 12 years now. We also pick up some books that are already produced, and we drop them into our distribution system if it is something we believe we can sell. At the heart of what we do, it is all about getting it out into bookstores. Brick and mortar is still more than half of where our book sales come from. It is still a huge element of focus for us. It is definitely in the thousands.

    BB006 | Using a book to grow your brand

    What do you consider a successful book? How many copies does a book need to sell for you to consider it successful? Maybe not a best seller, but a reasonably successful book?

    That’s kind of a loaded question!

    Being a nine-time author, I know that.

    Ha, you are going to drag me right into it, but of course it is different for every type of book. We have some health titles, and health books just have a broader audience, period, than a book on leadership, even though business books are our wheelhouse. Most of our New York Times best sellers are business books, although we’ve got increasingly more health titles falling in that bracket. New York Times best sellers are best sellers for a reason. Best sellers are standout performers, where it is selling tens of thousands. It is all about velocity of sales, selling quickly in the first few weeks.

    For a book to be a solid performer on our list, we like to see it move two to three thousand units a year through our channels. I say through our channels because our authors do not have to buy their books back from us. I don’t have any visibility as to what they are doing through back-of-room sales and so forth. It’s probably a bigger number than that. I can only share what we invoice here, so probably two to three thousand units.

    Does that include Amazon as well as brick-and-mortar stores?


    That’s actually helpful; that’s actually useful. How do you think the world of book publishing has changed in the past five years?

    The last five years have been really interesting. There has been a shift, of course. There is the first shift of e-books lighting a little bit of fear to a lot of folks. I think that inspired some concern about what is going to happen to our brick-and-mortar accounts. For us, that was really the impetus to making even an even harder push to diversify our brick-and-mortar account base so that we are not just relying on Amazon. We have very strong sales, and I mentioned the airport accounts; they are great examples, as well as the corporate accounts. In the industry itself, book sales are still very healthy. There has definitely been a change in terms of the retail stores processes. Barnes & Noble has closed some stores, and the overall makeup of their stores has been shifting. If you walk in the children’s section, it is very telling. There are more toys than books now. Granted my girls are teenagers, so I am not in that section much anymore, but it is really interesting to see the shift there. Books are getting less shelf space. Instead of that, they are moving in some toys and so forth.

    On the other side, from the author perspective, I think the biggest shift in the last five years has been an acceptance that there can be more than one way to publish. There used to be this awful stigma around self-publishing, and people would turn their nose up at it as if it wasn’t good enough. Increasingly, we are seeing very high-profile authors walk away from traditional houses saying, “Well what are you bringing me now? I’ve got this great platform.” So often, it’s just a matter of proofreading, and distribution, which is no small thing, but if their sales are primarily occurring online, they are kind of connecting those dots and seeing that they can do it themselves and keep more of it. It seems like more people are experimenting in self-publishing. In general, they are more accepting of the fact that there are more ways to publish that are not necessarily good or bad, just different.

    That brings me to the next question: Do you think there is any significant difference in using a book to grow your brand with a self-published versus the traditionally published book?

    I am biased, of course. For a couples of reasons, I can kind of go either way on that.

    Give me the pros and cons on both, just to be fair and balanced.

    I think some authors are very hell-bent on being published by a traditional imprint. They believe that it carries a certain amount of cachet. There is some legitimacy that is transferred to them by virtue of being published through that brand. I would argue if you ask Joe Reader what the imprint was on the last book they read, they could have no idea, that really nobody pays attention to imprints, except those of us who are accepted by one of them with an advance. In terms of building a brand, in most cases, I don’t think the imprint really lends much. The distribution can lend something, so I will say that if it is a traditional house, you are in good hands from a distribution standpoint. That is certainly going to help your visibility, which is half the reason in doing the book, of course.

    From the opposite perspective, when you are working with someone like Greenleaf, being on the self-publishing side, for a lot of the folks we work with, the creative control is really important. The book is there to support the brand and a certain message that they’ve honed carefully on the business side. We are very accustomed to walking the line between creating a book that was marketable to our retail accounts but also serves the business purpose that the author needs it to perform in the marketplace. That might be harder to achieve in the traditional model because you are less likely to be able to exert that much control in the process.

    That is a really interesting point, because authors do use books and they can use books to build their brands, particularly if they have a business that the book can help support. I always tell people that I think of my book as very expensive business cards. Because it’s really designed not so much to… Of course, I like selling books, and all my books are traditionally published, and I want to sell books, and I do sell books, but really the books are for driving traffic to my website and driving traffic to my business. Part of what I want to ask you, and I know a lot of other authors use their books in that way: What are the best ways you think that an author can use a book to grow their brand and their business?

    I think there are two major components to that. First of all, the very process of sitting down and writing a book can be very daunting. It can be daunting for a good reason. It is often a deep dive into really understanding what is the core message and value proposition of your business and who that audience is. And I think we get so busy in knocking out the day-to-day operations of our business that these bigger and strategic questions can move to the back burner. Maybe you looked at them a long time ago, but things have changed now, and we need to differentiate in a different way now.

    The process of writing the book is very healthy in terms of sitting down and figuring out the tone, message, and promise that we are making to our readers. How are we different from our competitors? What does this book need to do? Number one, that is definitely a great asset in terms of solidifying your branding and making sure that all your messaging is consistent and on point. From there, the release of the book is an event. When it comes to doing things like publicity or having a campaign around your company, it’s always helpful to have something to talk about. That is rule one of word of mouth marketing: Give them something to talk about. The book release allows you to have an event that you can publicize: “This book is out. It talks about this or that. It makes this new revelation about whatever your business area is,” and hopefully that is something that is pushing some buttons or a little controversial and gets a lot of coverage in the media. It is a tool. It is a means for visibility.

    As I mentioned, the airports, for a lot of our authors, that is a huge business driver. Somebody will pick the book up in the airport, read it on the plane, love what the author says, and realize, as so many of us business leaders do, that “I don’t have the time or the knowledge to execute this on my own,” that “I need to hire this person.” They will bring them in for the coaching, or the key note, or whatever it is — and that pays for the whole book project.

    Another way the book drives business is through, just like you said, being a really expensive business card. Then it’s the general visibility and differentiation, being able to say that you wrote the book on whatever subject still carries a lot of weight. It is the legitimizer, and it opens a lot of doors. You also have a physical product where a lot of people will choose to do a mass mailing and send the book out as a thank-you, or as something you bundle with other things that you give to your clients. They have a high perceived value. People are not inclined to throw away a book; they are typically inclined to putting it up on the shelf or leaving it on their desk. As far as an imprint goes and impression, it has some staying power.

    I think there are a couple of things that are really important that you’ve just said. One is being able to give it away. When you see a potential client or are on the phone with a potential client, to be able to send them a book as a follow-up or bring them a book that they can have, I think that really does help bring you to a higher level in their eyes — if the book is done well. I had this conversation with someone who is a book designer the other day on the podcast, and I think there is still a quality issue around books that are solely self-published. I hope you can address the importance of the quality of the book, not only in the writing, but in terms of the look, feel, and layout.

    I agree. I unfortunately see a lot of self-published books that come to us where the author is seeking wider distribution, where the quality is generally poor. Partly because the author is not a book publisher, so I would not expect them to publish at the quality level of a publisher with 20 years’ experience like we have. Also because, typically, a self-publisher is working in a vacuum. They don’t have access to the retail accounts that are giving them current feedback about what is currently working in the marketplace. That cannot be overstated in the importance of having a high-quality product, because there is enough self-published garbage out there. If you do hand them something that has that awful gloss lamination cover on it, and the layout is uncomfortable on the eyes and difficult to read, that can backfire and would leave a poor impression. You look like, perhaps, this may be your first rodeo.

    Having a really high-quality team behind you makes all of it worth it. It is such a time investment that you want to make sure that you get that right from the outset because it is your brand. It is quite difficult to remove once it is out there. There are ways that we can try to pull it off, different systems, but in terms of having an impression around your business out there, it is always better to do it right the first time and will probably save you money in the long run to put some resources behind a professional team.

    What do you look for in authors? Because you don’t just take anyone who comes to you. You really select and curate your authors, correct?

    Correct. We do only take about 10 percent of what comes through here.

    So really you only take 10 percent of what comes through and curate your authors. What do you look for in an author that you accept to be part of your group?

    The content has to be of strong quality, what I like to call practical nonfiction, something that explains to the reader on how to put this to work. Actionable is the word I love to use, and that is ultimately what sells. People can find a million and one books on leadership, health, or dieting, but they really want you to put a bow around, “Here is what you need to go do next.” That is probably one of the things that we spend the most time working on from an editorial side, on how to make this content very actionable and something that the reader can immediately apply to their lives to get the result that they initially bought the book for. Content is always important. I tell my authors that we are asking our readers for two weeks, not $20.

    That’s a really good point: It’s their time, not their money.

    For that reason, we need to spend a lot of time in crafting that experience. That goes back to the point about the layout, some of the graphics elements that we would incorporate into the design, to make sure that we are using those as carefully as we can to have a unique and purposeful reader experience. To make sure that the process of reading it should not get in the way of the content itself. Content is hugely important, and ultiamtely that goes a long way toward selling books, as much as it pains me to say this, but then the marketing and PR helps it to go a little farther.

    BB006 | Using a book to grow your brand

    Using a book to grow your brand requires a comprehensive creation and marketing strategy.

    That’s part of my question. How much does it weigh in if the author has a platform already in place, and you know they can do the PR and the marketing?

    It is huge for a number of reasons. Number one, if an author comes to us with a platform that we can quantify to a degree, and even better if they’ve already had other books and we can point to a sales history, this will be so much easier to sell it into retail. It is not as risky for the retail accounts. They can look at how this author performed and make some assumptions on whatever their system is telling them about where it sold, when it sold, the whole curve of the sales pattern, versus when we go in with a debut author. It is like credit. If you go in with a sales history, you have good credit, they will say, “Okay; we’ve tried you before. It worked, so we will do it again.” If you go in with no credit, that is not bad that there is no sales history, it just means that we have more work to do in terms of conveying what is going to move this book because there is no credit.

    We will look for somebody who is showing a very strong intent to support the book, who is hiring a publicist who is hopefully doing some speaking or has a sizeable list of people they can already reach. That allows us to turn to our retail accounts and say, quantifiably, that there are all these things in place to move that book off of your shelves. That helps drive the initial buy-in from those accounts.

    There are a lot of people who are telling me these days that social media is making the length of books smaller. I also read that e-books that are over 50,000 words do better than e-books that are shorter than that. Do you have any opinion about that?

    I think it is dangerous to get sucked into the mindset of: It has to be this length or that length. It has to be the length required to express the idea or belief logically. With some books, that takes 150 pages. With other books, it takes 400. With business titles, there is a trend overall with those becoming a little bit shorter. With some of our authors, we are taking material from the book that is not necessarily unnecessary, but it is not the meat of the book. We can take some of the case studies and so forth and we can put those on the website as added bonuses to the reader. It’s a good form of list-building as well. We can still be strategic with that material, but when somebody has questions about the length, I tell them to not worry about it. They just need to get the idea out and do it in a way that comes naturally and completely. The editors can figure it out from there.

    I think that is good advice, because what you are saying is that it has to serve the book and what the book’s purpose is. That might be longer or shorter depending on the topic or content.

    I know one of the reasons authors write books is to build their brand and to build their business. Are there specific ways that you have seen authors use their book to impact their business in terms of building their business?

    Yes, I have seen a number of authors use the book, and the distribution of the book itself; getting it into the new customer’s hands is one way of building the business. Another thing that people will do is very smart presale campaigns where they are using the book not only as a way to give a premium or a reward to people that they’ve worked with, like being a speaker at an event, but they are also using that to build some momentum to build that new release. They’re doing things like offering folks an immediate e-book copy of the book if they agree to buy 20 hardcovers upon release date.

    They are building on this really strong ground swell of preorders that they use when the book comes out to build momentum. That momentum can be used to hit the bestsellers list, which is a huge credibility boost. That is the most common tool that I see people use. Of course, the press and the media that talk about your book launch are also involved here.

    You mentioned earlier about mailings and being able to follow up with a book. We have other folks who really use it as an influencer or outreach tool. They will offer the book, very nicely packaged sometimes with a letter or a little tschotske, just to send it to people who are complementary to their business and might be able to use the book for their clients or in some other way partner to have that content help both businesses.

    I know you guys specialize in business books, or that one of the things in your wheelhouse is nonfiction business books. Are there other kinds of books that you’ve published that you like? You don’t do cookbooks, is that correct?

    We have some cookbooks. Some of our top-selling books right now are cookbooks, actually. Paleo cookbooks; we do really well with those.

    I stand corrected! Tell us about some of the other categories of books that you do?

    Once upon a time, I was able to say as a joke that we would consider everything but poetry or porn. We then took a poetry book and I was like, “Aw, I lost my joke.”

    It was such a nice alliteration too.

    BB006 | Using a book to grow your brand

    Taps on the Walls by John Borling. Published by Greenleaf Book Group.

    It really goes to show that you can’t get too married to your own ideas sometimes. The poetry book we took was fascinating. It was titled Taps on the Walls. It was poetry from prisoners of war at Hanoi Hilton, where they were tapping out Morse code to each other as a way to stay sane while they were held captive. There’s a foreword by John McCain, and it is an absolutely fabulous book, and we would have been stupid not to take it. It sold really well. Apart from that, we haven’t accepted any other poetry books.

    Have you accepted any porn yet?

    It actually sells really well, but no. We haven’t accepted any porn. But to answer your question seriously, we have primarily nonfiction, but we do have a kind of smattering of fiction. If I have to pull a thread through all these books, even the fiction stuff that works on our list is typically a book that helps someone improve their life or their business. There is some moral or story behind the fiction or the nonfiction that has that sort of ultimate truth of how are we becoming better people, and how are we creating a better world? That is the strength that we built in terms of our sales channels; that is the type of content that they like. Something that follows along those lines, then we are open to considering it.

    You will take people who are first-time authors? They don’t have to have been authors before, correct?

    Yes. I would say most of our authors are first-time authors. We are very used to working with them. It is different because publishing is a very backwards business, especially when business people first start to learn about it and they start to shake their heads. It can be a learning curve for them, but we are very used to sitting down and explaining the why behind why we do what we do verses just saying, “Here’s how it is.”

    There are also other authors who might have moved over from the traditional side, and there are people who have self-published and were tired of dealing with the administrative side of that and just wanted to focus on creating. So those types used us as the back end for their publishing operations.

    What percentage of the people who are your authors have shifted to this hybrid model with you?

    I don’t know a percentage off the top of my head; annually, 20 percent of our list, maybe. It’s definitely increased over the past few years.

    Is it because they can make money per book doing that?

    That is a big part of it. Number one is just awareness. I think despite our efforts to get our name out there, a lot of people don’t know that this third option exists. As they are understanding that they can have all the distribution and have the creative control and get it out faster and make more money on any direct sales, for that author, this is an option that makes sense for them. A lot of it is just awareness and getting the word out. I think the other part is the stigma is lifting. I don’t think they are as concerned as to how it looks for their brand if they move away from those traditional houses.

    If you have a CEO or executive who is really smart and sharp, has something to contribute, but they are just not a good writer, but they want to write a book to build their CEO brand, what do you suggest for people like that?

    I frequently come across that person. Just as common is that person is a speaker. That is perfect actually.

    Some people say to me that they just want to record their speech. I’ll tell them that It’ll give you content, but the way you speak does not translate to the way you write.

    Absolutely, and that is correct. At the same time, I’d rather have someone who can speak or has that CEO brand and experience than someone who can write and can’t do either of those things. We can hire a writer, but we can’t hire a speaker or a thinker for you. We have a whole process built out. We work with so many busy business executives and CEOs, people who understand the power of a book but don’t want to sit down. It takes a lot of time and discipline. Often, life gets in the way and work gets in the way, and we totally understand that.

    There is a project development process that those folks go through where we can help them go through the heavy lifting of creating the outline. The outline is really the meat of the book. That’s going to help you see the logical structure of the content, understand the flow for the reader, identify any holes to the content, and see if you need to pull together some case studies or outside information. Usually, that is where we start. That is often enough to get them to the point where they feel like there is a weight off their shoulders, and they can see how it will come together and see where they might need to hunker down and write some extra material. From there, depending on whether they enjoy writing or not, they might run off and go ahead and fill in the blanks from the outline that we created, or they might say that they love it but they don’t have time.

    In that case, we will find them a ghostwriter and go through the process of finding someone with the appropriate voice. Even then the ghostwriter needs their time. But because a ghostwriter needs to spend their time initially with the author in understanding what they’re trying to convey and to really find the fine point in their voice and making sure that they get it right, there are frequent check-ins to make sure that everything is staying that way. So one way or another, we can get them there.

    It is interesting because I’ve worked with a lot of clients where I helped them write or ghostwrite a book, and about half the time, it does not work out with ghostwriters. When I ask why it does not work out, they say that they just did not understand the things that they were talking about or the voice of the person, that they didn’t “get” them. Talk more about that.

    I agree, and it makes sense; it is a frequent concern. Nobody has the world view that you have. . It can be a bit of heavy lifting on the front end to find that right person who has the ghostwriting ability to write in your voice, and we are talking about hiring a thinker for you. In a way you are hiring a thinker, in a degree, in a ghostwriter, because you are hoping that the voice that they lend to your manuscript does take into consideration some of the business knowledge and wisdom that you’ve picked up along the way. A ghostwriter will specialize in a certain area. The good ones are booked up for years. They make good money because they have some very solid business chops that they can draw on, and it helps to make sure that your voice comes through clearly.

    It is also important for the author to understand that they are still the author and it is their idea. They have to take ownership of making sure whatever those unique elements are that makes their voice their voice, that they are stressing that on the front end so there isn’t an unpleasant surprise down the road.

    What is the typical cost for a ghostwriter?

    It is absolutely all over the map. I would say a really good one could easily make six figures; $100,000 in six months, I would say, for someone who is very, very good. Ghostwriters can’t publicize the books that they’ve worked on in the past, so it can be a bit of a challenge. Many of these conversations are by phone. We have a sense from having worked with them over the years of which books they have done. You can get a decent ghostwriter who may not have quite the list of credentials as somebody who’s been at it for a decade with $20,000 to $30,000. It is still an investment either way.

    That’s one of the things that people I have talked to often are shocked about, but really, that person not only has to write the book, but they also have to interview and look at your materials. They are not only writing, but they are also researching.

    It is a huge time commitment on their part. If you do the math on how many they can do in a year, the good ones make good money by doing that. It is a lot of work that goes into this six-month process of immersing themselves into this author’s world.

    There was someone on the show the other day who said that they think every business person should write a book. I don’t quite agree with it. I would like to know what your take on that is.

    I definitely don’t agree with that. I actually did a presentation at the National Speakers Association titled Why You Should Not Write a Book. If you’re struggling to get through even the process of writing an outline, it is more for reasons that perhaps you are not behind the idea versus someone who does not have time. You certainly aren’t going to have the right type of energy behind the promotional side of it, and it’s going to sit there and not sell, and you’re going to be upset. I think everybody who’s got a book understands the real effort that goes into the marketing and promotion. That’s not to say that writing it is easy. But if you are struggling just to get the thing produced, then I worry about what is going to happen when the pedal needs to hit the metal and you need to be out there hustling. That would be one reason to not write a book. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be creating some type of content.

    A lot of times, an author will come in and think they need to write a book. We then look into the nature of their idea. Sometimes it is something that is timely, like technology or current affairs. It is just not appropriate to put in a book because by the time the book comes out, it’s outdated, and you have to do a print-on-demand scramble to correct it. Sometimes, it does not have the legs to flesh out an entire book, and it should be a webinar series or presentation or blog. There are so many ways to put ideas out into the world. People want to consume those ideas in different types of formats. There is nothing wrong with that; everyone learns in a different way. There is plenty of demand for content in different packages, if you will.

    When I find somebody who is really feeling as if they are being pushed in writing a book, I would definitely steer them toward finding a different vehicle for that content. When you have the things that should be your book, and it absolutely drives you when you wake up, that is the time to sit down and say, “This is my book.”

    For me, I write books when I am bursting with the subject. I feel like I just need to get it out to make room for the next thing. That’s when I write books and when I would encourage someone to write a book so they can use that book to grow your brand.

    BB006 | Using a book to grow your brand

    So I have some questions that aren’t related to using a book to grow your brand, but that I like to ask everybody on the show. I’d like for you to think about somebody in your life who had a negative impact on you and how you dealt with it and learned something from it. Don’t say that person’s name.

    Like a lot of people, I had managers who were frankly not well trained as managers. While going through that, it was painful, and I learned a lot on how to lead my team that I have now. This helped me as the CEO. I just had a flashback all the way to my TV years, which was the late ’90s, and one of the earliest things that I have learned and that I still hold near and dear to my heart is: You do not speak ill of your competitors. I think that is very important. I am really bothered when I see other folks in this industry do it.

    When I was working in television one day, I was a segment producer at E! cable networks. E! was always the redheaded stepchild of getting celebrities on air. They always went to Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight, and then to us. One day, we were given this printed out list, a very sort of spun statistic about these other shows. We were supposed to use them to try to counter the publicists who we were campaigning to try to get them to give us the exclusive with some celebrity or give us the red carpet interviews. I had this feeling of, “Ick,” is the way I want to describe it to this day. They insisted that we give it a go. The very first time I tried it, it blew up in my face. I was begging for this exclusive interview, and I read off whatever statistic I was supposed to read, and there was dead silence on the end for about 15 seconds or so. Right there, I knew that I had just absolutely burned this relationship and lost her respect all in one breath.

    She said to me, “They would never do that to you, and I’m expecting you to behave in the same way.” Just her tone told me that I completely screwed that up. I tore that thing up and threw it away. I never used it again. That is such a great story and speaks volumes.

    There are times when we do that stuff, and it is against our own nature or our own intuition or own sense of values. We do it and realize that, yep, it was not a good thing to do. Hopefully we learn from it and never do it again.

    Absolutely. You can sense that. Like I said, I have this very grown-up word, “Ick,” to describe that feeling of, “This goes against what I believe, this lack of integrity. This also is just not logical. I’m not buying it; they are not going to buy it.”

    The other side of the question is: Who is someone in your life who made a very positive difference on you, and how did you learn from that? How has that changed you? You can say that person’s name if you want to.

    It would be honestly hard to narrow that down to one person. I am in the unique position of being able to work with thousands of very accomplished people by virtue of the authors on my list. I became CEO here in 2014 but have been in the company for 12 years. I know so many of these people; they are an extension of my family. When you are really deep in someone’s ideas, you become very close to these people. Launching a book is like having a baby in some ways. You are going through this roller coaster of emotions. You build these strong relationships. It is so fascinating that when I became CEO, I had tons of emails and phone calls from the authors of my list, not only congratulating me, but saying, “Hey, if you find yourself in a situation where you need my help on strategies, social media, leadership — all these things we publish their books about — please give me a call.” At first, I thought that would be kind of awkward, to talk about a business issue, because that is my client.

    But I tried it. They are people who already know my business, know me, know the culture at the company, and have already expressed wanting to be of help. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of that? Those people have had a great influence on me, not only because of the knowledge that they were able to share with me but also what they taught me on how to be generous and being free with sharing that with people. It is not always about getting whatever fee per hour for being able to share your knowledge. All of that builds goodwill that comes around in one way or another.

    Berny Dohrmann of CEO Space calls that “brain tithing.” It’s like you are tithing, but with your brain.

    Thank you. For authors or would-be authors who are interested in finding out how to work with you, what is the website for people to go to?

    This is wonderful. Tanya, thank you. You are just a joy to talk to.

    Thank you. It was a lot of fun. I am happy to do it any time.

    Thanks for joining me today, everyone. My guest has been Tanya Hall on using a book to grow your brand. She is the CEO of Greenleaf Book Group.

    Important Links

    Tanya_036-newAbout Tanya Hall – CEO of Green Leaf Book Group

    Tanya drives Greenleaf’s growth efforts and fosters a culture built around serving authors. Prior to her current role, Tanya worked directly with Greenleaf’s authors to develop publishing strategies (including multiple New York Times bestsellers); spearheaded growth strategies, including Greenleaf’s ebook program and the River Grove digital-first imprint; and built Greenleaf’s distribution organization, working directly with retailers and wholesalers to develop one of the fastest-growing distribution businesses in the industry. Before joining the publishing industry, Tanya worked in digital media and as a television producer for Extra! and E! Entertainment Television.

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

    Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

    The Internet has created a new way for businesses to brand and market themselves, and Ken Courtright, founder of knows just how to help companies do business in the Internet age. Based on his popular system on how to “Grow any business in any industry at any time,” Ken shares his insights on how to build company webpages that avoid coming off “salesy” but build social proof and establish trust.

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    Growing Your Business and Brand in an Internet Age

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertThank you so much for joining me on our podcast today. My guest is Ken Courtright. He is the founder and CEO of He is an expert on doing business in the Internet age.

    Ken, I’m so happy we could finally get this scheduled to be together on this call.

    Thanks for having me.

    It is my pleasure. You travel a lot, and one of the things you do is travel all over the world talking about, among other things, how people can make money on the Internet. But it’s really way more than that. It’s really about doing business in the Internet age and this whole way people now brand and market themselves. Can you talk a little bit about your company, on what you do and what your mission is?

    Well sure. We’re about 24 years old. I’d like to start off quickly correcting people; they think we’re a web-based company, an Internet marketing firm, or an SEO shop when they find out about what we do. The reality is we have 87 employees, and over half of them have nothing to do with Internet marketing and things like that. But what we specifically do is we live by our 24-year-old roots as a growth-consulting firm. We like to think that we can meet a business owner, ask a few questions, look them in the eye, and comfortably tell them that we can grow their business.

    Usually their first questions will be, “How exactly can you grow this? It has been a family business for 20 years,” or, “We just started and are hitting a brick wall. You don’t even know us. How can you say you can grow us?” We have a tagline that we can grow any business in any industry at any time. The reason is, we don’t think traditionally. We had the ability and the serendipity in 2009 to step outside the box, if you will, to look at our own growth-consulting firm and say, “What is something that could be done in any business, in any industry, at any time that could add a second, third, or maybe fourth and fifth revenue stream to a business?” We can quickly surmise that if you add a website that is industry specific, that is built for no other reason than pure monetization, you can add that type of website to any business, in any industry, at any time. We have spent the last six years building a team of 80 incredibly sharp people who strategize certain industries one at a time.

    We meet people at their needs. If they need leads for their business, we’ll build a website for that. They just need cash flow to stabilize the company, or a household, or maybe keep their wife from going to work, or maybe keep the husband from the second or third job; we’ll build a website or buy a website just to add extra income to the household. If we were to summarize it in one sentence, we help people, businesses, or private equity firms add additional revenue streams to their main source of income. We do it through monetized web properties.

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    The team at Income Store know how to grow a brand in an internet age through monetized web properties.

    Wonderful! By the way, I want to say it for the listeners, I don’t think you meant keep your wife from going to work if she wants to work. I think you meant if she wants to stay home and raise children or do something else, so that she doesn’t have to work.

    Yeah; unequivocally yes. My wife works 80 hours a week.

    She does. Your wife is your partner in your business there—a fabulous businesswoman and wife.

    Yes. She loves what we are doing. She would have just corrected me, just like you.

    That’s why she and I are friends. I’ve heard you say a lot in the conferences I’ve been to where you have spoken that trust trumps everything, especially today. I want to know what you mean by that. Also, how do you think that this idea of trust trumps everything impacts the business and the brand in today’s world?

    That’s excellent. For a year and a half, that was my main talk. I have a book coming out that you’re aware of. That is the centerpiece, and it goes like this: For a couple hundred years, the business and marketing books would teach the concept that if you’re selling something, for people to truly buy something, they have to know you. Then they have to like you. Then they have to trust you.

    I’ll give you an example: You could take an insurance salesperson, a marketing expert, even a school teacher who wants to do part-time work on the side or over the summer, when these people go into the marketplace to position themselves so people would want to buy from them, anything today in 2016, that is let’s say more than a hundred dollars, the odds are well past 50 percent, that somebody is going to Google that person’s name, and then they’re going to Google the company name. They are looking for certain trust factors. Does this person have a social media presence? Are they on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook? Do they have a website? The single most important aspect of trust trumps everything was the 6- to 10-year run that companies were doing at what is now known as social proof. Social proof proves that if we, as business owners, say that our product is the best, we as business owners are looked at as salespeople.

    If our website said that we have the number-one product in this space, and people look at websites like salespeople, they’re simply not trusted. However, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. The definition of social proof is, if the world says it’s so, it must be so. If, for instance, the website of TOMS Shoes, the fastest-growing shoe company in history, has nothing but shoes all over the homepage claiming they are the best, it’s just a website selling shoes. The fastest-growing shoe company in history, TOMS Shoes, has no shoes on its homepage. It’s a picture of a gentleman named Blake—the founder—sitting next to a mountain, and right under the picture of Blake, it’s explaining that, “If you buy a pair of shoes here, we’re going to put a brand new pair of shoes on a kid who has never worn shoes before.” He does not sell shoes. He sells a message. The message is well received, and he’s not pumping shoes down people’s throats. The world tells the world how great TOMS Shoes is. Right underneath that picture where Blake is right next to a mountain, he has literally hundreds of testimonials of his customers telling the rest of the world how great TOMS Shoes is so he doesn’t have to do the work.

    Right now, today, in 2016, the websites that can deliver the most upfront trust and comfort are the ones that are excelling and growing the fastest.

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    Your website is your brand in an Internet age, it needs to establish the know-like-trust factor.

    It’s amazing to me how many people in businesses—both individual entrepreneurs or small businesses and even larger companies, middle-sized companies—really don’t get that. They don’t understand the importance of establishing that trust in the website. I’ve talked to so many people where they know they need a website. They will say, “Well, I hired my aunt, or my uncle, or my cousin, my friends’ son, who isn’t really a web designer, a writer, or a brander,” and they have those people do that work and put up a website that’s really mediocre. They will often say to me, “Does it really matter that much?” I’m very shocked that people don’t know that. Do you find that? That a lot of people still aren’t aware of what you just said?

    Definitely. As much as there was a lot of homework done on social proof, none of the foundations or the industries or the institutions that did the homework have anything to gain by following up on the publishing of their findings. It’s up to the marketers to see what’s really working in the marketplace. I’ve never seen that being brought into business—social proof. My podcast and a few other books I’ve read touch on this subject. I don’t think it’s a commonly understood formula of success.

    The scary thing is, I’m seeing just as much of the 4 P’s today as I did a few years ago. The 4 P’s are: product, pricing, positioning, and promotion. That was taught for 100+ years. You get the right product to the right niche market. You do the right pricing, make sure the positioning against competitions is on point and the pricing matches, and then, you promote it. The old adage is, “Tell more; sell more.” If the other 3 P’s are in place when you do your promotion, that product is going to make it.

    The reality is, that’s not true today. The fact of the matter is, and I’m going to say it as simply as I can, that nobody wants to go first. If somebody starts a business today, they launch a website. They hire a web designer. They get all excited. They will have a 10- to 20-minute interview of, “What would you like for the homepage, frequently asked questions, about us, products and services, and tools and resources sections?” They set up what was a great website in 2000. That doesn’t work today. The reality is, when you live by the 4 P’s, you’re actually making these millennials gag. The last thing they want to see when they open your homepage is a product with a dollar sign with it. They buy stories. Quite frankly, the reality is that people today, especially the millennials, they buy cool people in cool companies. They don’t necessarily buy cool products. They want to do business with the people who are very cool, very cutting edge, even comedic and funny. They want to buy companies with big hearts with deep, worthy causes that matter.

    Quite frankly, even the millennials who don’t necessarily have the big bank rolls, they will find the money to buy the right products from the right companies. I agree with you; I don’t see a lot of people who are paying attention to social proof and trust trumps everything. They’re still focused on the 4 P’s. Honestly, it’s just a matter of time. They will go by the wayside like the taxi cab is going by the wayside with Uber.

    It’s interesting about the 4 P’s, because in branding work that I do so often, that’s how people are able to find their brand. It takes me an entire day to sit down with people and help them look at their brand in another way, and I think you’re absolutely right; today you have to define a brand in a much deeper and broader way that includes your story and contribution. It’s essentially what you said: You have to have a narrative about your brand. You can’t just have, “The facts, ma’am, just the facts.”

    In his incredible book No BS Marketing to the Affluent, Dan Kennedy wrote something that, when I was riding in an airplane as I read it, I physically felt my heart stop. He said, “Over six years, we studied the top 10 reasons that the affluent make a buying decision.” I want to say that he said there were 280 to 300 interviews. The number one reason that the wealthiest people buy anything, believe it or not, it’s the story behind the brand. The story goes, when someone is making a decision between three $30,000 watches, what he envisions is himself playing poker with his buddies. They will say, “Oh, nice watch!” Then he goes, “Let me tell you about that watch.”

    The wealthy want to make a buying decision about the company or the brand behind the product because they really want to buy a story. It is exactly why the 2007 book Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk went absolutely ballistic as one of the best-selling marketing books of all time, because he told the story of how he turned his father’s liquor store from a $1-million-a-year liquor store into a $20-million-a-year liquor store in under a year. He did this by simply taking a bottle of wine every single night, going to the basement, Googling that wine brand, and telling the brand story to a flip phone for 5 to 7 minutes. He proved to the world that the story sells wine, that the brand sells wine. The wine sitting on the shelf at the right price point doesn’t sell wine.

    There is a counter-side to this, which is—just to be devil’s advocate for a moment—that you can be telling a great story and have a lot of social proof, but if you’re not delivering a product of quality, eventually, you’re not going to be making it.

    No question. The reality is that the tipping point to a potentially explosive business is the brand story, but then it just tips it over what I call the flat table. The flat table is supported by the legs. You better have an incredible product. You better have a great customer service division, because we’re in the world of customer service. You better have still-legitimate pricing. If you’re pricing yourself out of the market, you’re going to be looked at sideways. If you’re underpricing, pricing is branding; you are also going to look like something’s wrong. You’re going to need a great product. You need a great customer service support team. You need a great price point. The bottom line is you need a serious business. You need real employees doing great work.

    If you want to be explosive, it can’t be just about the product or the pricing. You said it; the perfect word is your narrative. You’ve got to have a narrative story that resonates. A lot of people today are still living in the 4 P’s. They’re not positioning their product in their customer’s language. Here’s an example from about 2 to 3 months ago, right before our last event: I’m sitting at the kitchen table, and we only have one phone in our home, it’s a very old phone from a very old fax line. Nobody has the number, not even my dad. All of a sudden, I’m sitting 20 feet away from the home phone, which is the 911-emergency phone, and the only other person home at this time is my 14-year-old daughter. I know she is about six feet away from the phone, because she’s in the garage outside the door putting on her roller skates. She’s going roller skating.

    All of a sudden, the phone rings. I know that the only people that have this number are my wife and my three daughters. I know where my wife and my two other daughters are. They’re unreachable. The only other person that has this number is my 14-year-old, who’s six feet away from the phone. I realized very quickly this son-of-a-gun pulled her cell phone out of her back pocket; she is closer to the phone than I am, but she’s still dialing that number. So I got up from the kitchen table, walked up to the phone, answered, and said, “Can I help you?” I know it’s her.

    Cameron says, “Yeah, dad. Can you do me a favor? I left something on the counter. Can you bring it to me?” Here’s what’s crazy. I think most people would get angry and upset at their 14-year-old who is closer to the phone than the adult was. I remember being spell-bound, holding the phone thinking, “Oh my goodness! This is how my 14-year-old’s brain works. Her cell phone is in her hip pocket. It’s faster and more convenient to her to reach her father by calling the phone, than it is for her to very quickly pull out of her skates, walk up six steps, open the door, and yell at me.”

    In reality, it’s an incredible business lesson. How many business owners today are still branding their product, marketing their product, and building their websites the same way they did five years ago? Every year on the Internet is like dog years. Five years ago on the Internet is 35 years ago in business. Does that make sense?

    It makes total sense.

    We have to remember that these millennials, they are the future of this country. They’re the influencers. They influence the seniors on how to use the Internet. They influence their parents on how to communicate online.

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    Millennials are the future, does your brand in an internet age match with an online and mobile presence?

    I’m seeing some very grave mistakes out there. We have 700 revenue-generating websites to do this split testing on. It’s not fair for me; I have a little bit of an edge on the game; I can see it coming before it’s coming. It is painful for me to sit back and see people sleeping and not understanding. They don’t know how to reach out to us.

    That’s something that I’ve always talked about is doing business with your customers the way they do business with you, not the way you want to do business with them.

    You better believe it. You nailed it.

    Then, that’s how you do it. It’s interesting. You have all these websites. You are managing over 700+ websites for people. Is that correct? How many are there?

    There are 716.

    The 716 websites, can you give 2, 3, or 4 of the best practices today in terms of a website that is well-branded, well-marketed. They reach the audience, the millennial audience, that’s out there?

    First and foremost, as a business owner, you have to understand the difference between mobile, mobile-ready, and mobile-responsive. In the last two and a half to three years alone, there has been a huge shift in getting websites mobile, and then there is mobile-ready, which ESPN just pulled off about 13 months ago. ESPN shut the site down for two hours and flipped it to mobile ready. This way, everything they have shows up both on a desktop and on a phone at the same time. The difference is, not every advertisement shows up and not every app or every distributor shows up. The next wave is mobile-responsive. That’s where any tablet, smartphone, any desktop, every ad, everything, shows up 100 percent; nothing is cut off, nothing is left off.

    Google is so passionate about making sure the world understands this, they decided to penalize, without telling you they penalized you, those that are not mobile-responsive. They’re not saying it’s a penalty, so you technically can’t quote me, because you’re not going to find any of the guys at Google saying the word “penalty.” Just take my word for it. If your site is fully mobile-responsive, and all things are considered equal—social signals match, linkbacks match—if everything matches up to your competitor, and you are mobile responsive and they’re not, I assure you that you are going to rank higher than them.

    Number one, you’ve got to make sure that you understand that 65 percent of every page view online today on a mobile device—this is all pushed and led by the millennials—is on a mobile of some kind. So that’s the first thing.

    Number two is, we can’t forget yesterday. I had a podcast on this, it’s podcast number 2, called “How to Read Your Client’s Mind.” We can’t forget the fundamentals of using the Internet. This is the first time that business owners have been able to communicate directly with the client without talking to them.

    In the old days, the times of Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM, his mantra was white shirt. You get in front of your customers. You ask them a million questions until you know exactly what they want. Then, we’ll build them what they want. You have to physically talk with the client. Today, there are so many tools, like Google’s Adwords keyword planner, SEMrush, Quantcast, that can physically show the world what your client is typing into a search bar. We can see what they want unequivocally with the data of how many times they search that every month.

    We know, if we know what tools to use, exactly what content to write on a Monday, once a week, or once a month. People are forgetting the old-fashioned getting to your client, getting what they want. Build what they want, and don’t build what you think will sell. That’s the key.

    That is an excellent point. I know from working with you that one of the strategies that is working effectively is finding out those key words and key words phrases and just continually writing about those. I have never paid a dime for Google Adwords. I’ve gotten very high ranked in some my areas, and I’ve had clients ranked high just by using that strategy.

    It’s just a simple strategy. It’s almost too simple that people don’t believe that it’s possible. It is what you said. It’s founded in that old-fashioned idea of giving your customer what they want. What they want is what they searched for. It’s giving them what they searched for, not what you think they will search for.

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    Google Adwords is a key tool to use in building your brand in an internet age.

    We have a website called As of December 7, 2015, it became the number-1 plumbing website in the world. It ranks on 162,000 plumbing terms. What’s scary is that we’ve only written a piece of content every Saturday for three and a half years, which is not a tremendous amount of content, and we’ve done really little traditional marketing. They key is we asked Google ahead of time—we stay six weeks ahead of the website—we asked Google via this Google Adwords keyword planner tool: What is the world searching for right now that we have yet to write on? It physically talked back to us. As long as we’re writing on what Google has proven the world’s looking for, Google has an internal algorithm that balances the amount of pages written that are titled a certain way. Let’s call that title an answer to a key phrase.

    Google was saying: We’ve got this key phrase, “How to fix a leaky toilet,” that only 10 people in history have written on. If you’re going to write a piece of content on how to fix a leaky toilet, Google is already craving that because they’ve only got 10 pieces worldwide. If we make it 11, we’re pretty much assured to get 9 to 10 percent of that traffic. It’s just pure math. For whatever reason, we’d like to do the hard work and the labor of finding that stuff out. If you write on that, it works for everybody.

    That’s a great strategy. So many people say, “I can’t rank if my key word is ‘money’ or ‘Internet.’” You can’t rank for that pure key word, but you can rank for those longer tails and phrases using key words and questions, which you were just talking about.

    Yes, completely. You nailed it. You start with a long-tail and find a five- to seven-word phrase. You can almost assure yourself that not very many people have written on that five- to seven-word phrase. Then you can get to the top one, two, or three positions on that phrase just by continually writing on that phrase differently. Those are called the authoritative pointers.

    If Google sees that you are toward the top of page one on seven to 1ten long-tails all of a sudden in that industry—and Google doesn’t know any better; it’s a computer program—they think you’re an authority. So when you write on a three- to four-word phrase, you’re going to become an authority quicker. Then you write one- to two-word phrases, and that’s exactly the strategy we used for

    That’s funny because in a way, what you’re doing is showing Google your social proof by doing it that way. That’s interesting. You talk about the success wheel. Can you say a little about what that is and why it’s important for building a brand today?

    After a presentation, we found out our flight was delayed. We have to stay an extra night in that town. The convention organizer ran up to me, “Ken, I heard your flight was delayed. Could you do one more talk? Just 25 minutes?” I said that I hadn’t prepared anything. He said, “We’re just going to ask you some questions. We’re just going to mic you up. You sit on stage. It’ll be centered on a talk you previously gave.” I figured it’d be fine, so I got up on stage.

    What this gentleman asked me is one simple question that they wanted that 25-minute answer for, which was this: “In 24 years, you’ve had three huge growth spikes in your company’s career. One growth spike, then you went not just flat, but you almost lost everything. Then, you grew back and went flat for four years in a row. Now, you’re growing again faster than you’ve ever grown before. Can you map out for us over 24 years, what are some of the critical decisions you made to grow, to get out of almost losing your company, to grow again, to get out of going flat, and then to grow again?”

    I said, “That’s probably going to take longer than 25 minutes, but I can at least take a rough stab at it.” I walked up to a flip chart and big markers out there. The first thing I figured out when I was 22 years old is I was very ignorant on business. I knew I had to get my brain around business owners, so anybody that came through Chicago—like Brian Tracy, Zig Zigler, Tom Hopkins, and Tony Robbins—anybody that remotely sounded business savvy to me when I was 22, I attended their event. I became what I called a conference junkie. I noticed there is something very interesting when you go to these conferences: You can definitely tell the people from stage that are pure-hearted and the people who are just going to sell you some cassette tape, which was the thing to do at that time.

    I can’t tell you how many of these huge clam-shelled cases of cassette tapes I came home with. The cool thing was, as much as I wanted to buy their cassettes to further get to know these people, what I found way more intriguing was that the pure-hearted people would often, on purpose or accidentally, drop hints of what they’re currently reading or what they just read. I would literally sit there waiting, sometimes through a two-and-a-half-day session for them to mention a couple of books they’ve read. I would go home to the local book store, and whatever book these “superior” businesspeople mentioned they were currently or just finished reading, I would read them like crazy.

    Usually when I draw this in front of a group, I’ll put “conferences” at the bottom left as a word with a little circle around it. Then from conferences, I draw an arrow up and to the left, indicating that they drew me to certain books. Then I draw a circle around the word “books.” At the very top of the piece of paper, I write “IP,” which stands for intellectual property.

    What I found so intriguing after a year and a half on this, what I call the success wheel, is the books more than anything because I can read them and I can reread them. I can consume myself in these books. They gave me so much IP, intellectual property, that in a very short period of time, before I was even 24, I could walk into a chamber of commerce event or some kind of a networking event, I would only be halfway into an event, and I’d have a crowd of people around me wanting to know what I knew.

    I, at the time, had a low self-image. I didn’t date anybody in high school and very few in college. I never drank a beer or anything like that. I was a complete introvert, yet, you put me in a room of businesspeople, I felt completely in control because I felt that I read more than these people, I studied more than these people. Sometimes they were 40-, 50-, or 60-year-old businesspeople with 40 years of business experience on me.

    Something dramatic had happened in year three of this success wheel. Conferences led me to the books. The books led me to intellectual property. The intellectual property would allow me to go to these events and these meetings and bump into businesspeople who would want to either buy products from me through marketing services or just partner with me and do a joint venture. I made some great friends in my first few years in business, many of whom would do actual business deals with our growth consultant company, so at the bottom right of this wheel I would write “deals” or “business flow” and circle that.

    The success wheel is this: After a few years of growing, we doubled five out of seven years, and then we went flat for two years and almost lost everything. In the three-year period of time, I asked myself, how in the world could we go from doubling every year, almost tripling sometimes, to flat and then backwards? Then I realized, I actually said to myself when I was 28 years old, “I probably should stop going to these conferences, because I think I know more than these people. If I keep going, I might dumb myself down.” I didn’t realize it for 10 years. That was the dumbest thing I ever could have said to myself.

    There’s a phrase in business, “When the students are ready, the teacher appears.” I found out the second time around the wheel, when I was about 28 or 29; I jumped back to the exact same conferences, exact same ones with the same speakers. All of a sudden, even though it was almost an identical presentation as when I was 24 years old, everything was speaking to me at a whole new level. I realized it wasn’t the speaker; it wasn’t even the information. It was that my business and my person were at a different level. I needed different material. I needed different input.

    All of a sudden, the same people, the same Tony Robbins, the same Brian Tracy, these people are still out there talking on stages with the same and new information. It was speaking to me so differently. The most critical aspect is hearing them recommending different books. I jammed on the books from 1998 to 2003. I read one, at least, if not two business books a week for five years. My intellectual property of how to grow or market a business exploded.

    Just one quick question about that: When you say “intellectual property,” I know you don’t mean it this way, so this is just to clarify for the people listening; I know you don’t mean that you took ideas from those books and used them, because that’s their intellectual property. You mean that those intellectual properties helped you grow your business.

    Correct. When I say IP, it’s just a very general sense that my business smarts, my business knowledge, my knowledge base in business overall, my personal intellectual property grew unbelievably. I wasn’t really quoting Brian Tracy. I wasn’t quoting anybody else out there. I wasn’t using any of their techniques. It’s just my overall, general understanding of the book. I always think of the book The E Myth; Michael Gerber has done an incredible job of describing why solopreneurs get stuck, why they can’t grow past themselves.

    Yes, that’s a great book.

    My intellectual property, the second time around the wheel, exploded our company. The real magic came when I went four years in a row. I was very satisfied. I had a great life 10 years ago. I started having a bunch of kids. We moved three times in I don’t remember how many years.

    Things got very comfortable. I got very scared because I know in life, you’re either in a storm (things are very difficult), or you’re coming out of the storm, or you’re about to go inland. I felt so comfortable, I said, “I must be so comfortable that I’m about to go into a storm.” I remembered looking back and thinking, “I haven’t gone to a conference again in four years.”

    Here’s what’s amazing; one thing I didn’t stop was reading. This time when I went back into the conferences, the conference coordinators of almost every event I was going to got to know me. They remembered me since I had been going to a conference now for 15 to 20 years.

    They would start to ask me, “Ken, how come you’re in the audience? How come you’re not on stage?” Then I’m like, “What are you talking about? I’m not a speaker.” They told me that I might want to consider it. I started getting on the stages of the events I used to attend. What I learned in business through books and conferences was enough meat to propel my business forward.

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    I realized that one of the greatest ways to learn is to teach. I realized I really need to know what I’m talking about if I’m going to teach people. It’s not just helping them grow their businesses. There’s another level of accountability when you’re a teacher. This third time around the wheel, which I’ll be on the rest of my life when I die with my boots on, I found one item of the success wheel that brings more people more success than anything else in business; I have yet to find anything that can beat this. It goes like this: If you’re on a success wheel—and everybody’s on their own success wheel—it could be  books. It could be watching TV. Who knows? Everybody has their own success wheel whether they admit it or not. What I found is that if you attack your own personal success wheel to build your own personal intellectual property bucket, something dramatic happens.

    The bigger players, when they want to get around you, they bring their success wheel with them. They bring their whole black book of contacts with them. They bring their whole book of clients with them. The deals we started doing on our third time around the success wheel, the size of these deals was staggering, to the point where our average deal size just six years ago was about a $14,000 contract. Our average deal size today is a $172,000 contract. It’s because we got around people who played a bigger game. Does that make sense?

    It totally makes sense. I went to a financial class once about 30 years ago that totally changed my life. They said, “There’re only two ways to make more money: Either you increase the amount you’re charging to a very narrow stream, or you get next to a much larger stream. There are only two ways to do it.”

    What I love about what you’re saying about the success wheel, and it’s something people miss so often, is you have to keep learning. Whether they’re personal or business brands, the strongest brands are brands that continue to evolve, grow, and learn rather than stay stagnant.

    The most underused and dustiest room in everybody’s home is the room for improvement.

    We met at a conference. You’re obviously very successful with what you do. I just have to honestly say, Ken, that the humility that you have in terms of listening to the speakers in what you are willing to gain from them, you probably knew 99 percent of what those speakers were saying, but you never had that attitude. That is something that is a source of your success.

    Yes, I appreciate that. The reality is we can always learn something from everybody. I don’t go there with the understanding that I’m going to gain two golden nuggets today or I’m going to get three great contacts from this conference. I’m there because I actually feel I’m supposed to be there. There is something that’s going to come off from that stage that if it isn’t for me today, it’s supposed to teach me something that I’m going to need in six months.

    It’s more of an attitude of just going there to receive, and even today, I’m a faculty, as you are, of CEO Space, I’m a regular at Secret Knocks, I’m a regular at New Peaks, I’m probably a regular at seven major events. But when there’s somebody there speaking, I would still be part of the audience, not backstage farting around with the other speakers. I think that’s where I’m supposed to be is in the audience.

    I know you’re the CEO and founder of, and you’ve won the Inc. 5000 two years in a row, is that right?

    Two out of three years, and then apparently, from what it looks like right now, we’ve grown more in this past year than the other two that we won. It looks like we’re going to do it three out of four years, which is fairly unprecedented.

    Can you say a sentence or two about the conferences that you do so that the people can know about that and take a look at them?

    We have Digital Footprint, which you’re a regular speaker at: Forbes says it is ranked one of the top-5 must-see, can’t miss business conferences of 2016. They’re held twice a year, and we do those east coast, west coast. The next one is late October in the L.A. area.

    The concept is simple: The greatest business model ever created is to follow a working model. If you look at Burger King, all they do is move in next to Mc Donald’s. That’s not me saying it; it’s their physical demographic model. The greatest, quickest path to success is to model someone else’s success, because it takes away a lot of thinking.

    Digital Footprint was created to show businesspeople how business was done for the last hundred years by using working models. We flipped the working model into just digital pieces. If you just want to model someone’s website, what would you look for? If you want to model somebody’s e-mail campaign, how would you look for that? How would you model it?

    By the time people leave the conference in three days, they’re walking out of there with five to twenty-five models they can follow. We give away an iPad to somebody who can find the most things that could be created or duplicated for free or nearly free. One girl who won the iPad heard 202 different things in three days from our stage that she could model for free or nearly free. We have four people who found 150 things they could model freely.

    People can find out or register at, correct?

    You either go to, under “events,” or to the actual event page at

    BB008 | Brand in an Internet Age

    Digital Footprint Conference is the can’t miss business conference of 2016.

    I’ve started asking everybody who appears on this podcast three questions at the end. They’re not specific to what you do in general, but I think there are things that are important. The first one is, who’s that one person in your life who had a really deep positive impact on you? What did you learn from them?

    No question. It is Brian Tracy. When I was 24, I picked up the book The Psychology of Selling. It transformed our business. It definitely changed my life. There is one specific part of the book where he talks about an income barometer, that every person will earn exactly what they think they’re worth. He proved it. It wasn’t just Brian proving it; I think it was Yale that did a study, another group did a study in the 1930s, and then another study went back across different countries for a couple hundred years. The reality is that one chapter of that one book showed and proved that I’m going to create a company the size of what my worth is: my personal worth. That told me I don’t need to work on my company size. I need to work on my personal worth size, my income barometer. Because of that book, I went so deep into self-improvement books like Awaken the Giant Within and Unlimited Power by Tony Robbins and See You at the Top by Zig Zigler. It was part of my mission of absorbing anything that got in front of me. I think The Psychology of Selling is maybe one of the top five business books ever written. That is what definitely hit me the most.

    The second question is, who is the person who had a negative impact on your life? What did you learn from that? Don’t tell us the name of the person!

    I won’t name the person, but it was partly because of something I read in a Brian Tracy book. He mentions that if you want to grow ten-fold in your company in two years, you’ve got to go headhunt someone who’s at that level of a manager at a company that size and bring them in to work for you. In the mid ’90s, I did exactly that. We were what’s called a Microsoft-type of company. Just to tell people how it was back then in the late ’90s, we got things done very quickly, made snap decisions. We were growing so quickly.

    This person had what’s called a Procter & Gamble mentality; it would take this person four months just to order a stapler. I mean that. He would want paperwork done. It was oil and water or jumbo shrimp, whatever oxymoron you can come up with. We did not mesh. Because of how we didn’t get along with that, I let it go on for six months. It literally took our chain of video stores down. It cost us a million dollars.

    He was great as a person, but it was a terrible business decision for me to bring him on. I did not vet the person at all, and he definitely had a negative impact on me.

    It’s a good lesson there! If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, from the age you’re at right now, what would it be?

    It sounds almost impossible to believe. I would tell my younger self, as much as I’ve read, READ MORE. I’m doing it now, reading two books a week. The growth came because I read and studied what I knew I should, where everybody else was watching TV and going out with their buddies, doing what average people do. I didn’t. Now, we look like overnight wonders. It took us 24 years to get here. I could have cut the time in half had I been more specific in my studies.

    Ken, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast to talk about building your brand in an internet age.

    My pleasure; it’s been great.

    Important Links

    About Ken Courtright – Founder and CEO of The Income Store

    Ken courtright head shotKen Courtright is the founder and CEO of the Inc.5000 company Income Store. Income Store helps people and businesses grow their income through Building or Buying “Revenue Generating Websites.” “Income Store” now manages close to 700 Money Making Websites for their website partners. Every website they build or buy comes with a lifetime performance guarantee of 11% – 22%. Because of the performance guarantee, Ken’s model has attracted hundreds of partnerships with individuals, business owners and private equity firms.

    A Best Selling Author in 5 Categories, Ken has recently been featured on WLS, FOX, CBS, A&E, Forbes and most recently on the Biography Channel. Their portfolio of 700 revenue generating websites are viewed almost 200 Million times each year. After doubling revenues 6 years in a row, in 2013, 2015, and now again in 2016, Ken’s 23-year old company was ranked in Inc. Magazine as one of the 1,000 Fastest Growing U.S. Companies.


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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.

    Can Being Funny Help Build Your Brand?

    Can Being Funny Help Build Your Brand?

    Being funny is not just a natural talent you are born with. It is also a skill you can learn. And it’s a skill that can be invaluable in building your personal brand. My guest today is David Nihill, founder of FunnyBiz – a company that specializes in helping people be funnier in print and in front of an audience. Among other things we will talk about how doing improv comedy can make anyone a better public speaker, how to use humor to connect with your audience, and the tips and tricks you can borrow from professional comedians – to get a laugh.

    Listen to the Podcast here:

    Can Being Funny Help Build Your Brand?

    The following is an edited transcript of this podcast. Since how we talk and how write is often very different, this transcript may contain uses of the English language (including grammar) that are not 100% correct. We are counting on your understanding in advance.

    Karen Leland Branding ExpertThank you for joining me on the Branding Blowout. I am really thrilled to have David Nihill here today as my guest. He is the founder of Funny Biz, and he is the author of Do You Talk Funny?

    David, thank you so much for being on the program.

    Thanks for having me.

    It is my pleasure. We met at a TEDx party, and I was enthralled with your beautiful Irish accent. That was the first thing I noticed about you.

    Thank you very much. Normally, it is my goofy-looking head, but the accent comes a close second, but I’ll take it.

    I was really fascinated with what you do as the founder of FunnyBizz and the author of Do You Talk Funny? You really help people look at how they bring humor into their lives and into their business lives. I Being funny is something that I think of as a natural talent that you are either born with or not. You talk about it as something that you can learn as a skill.

    I think it is as much a skill as being funny. Certainly there are those people in the world that are naturally more gifted with it than others, but there is also a huge amount of people out there that are very famous, successful, and very known for being funny, that didn’t start off very funny at all. In my own experiments posing as a comedian for a year for the sake of this book, I met a lot of people that I would not have said were naturally funny and who were not even funny at all at the start of their journey. A year later, I was seeing these guys who are not maybe famous for being a comedian at this stage, but they certainly got funnier along the way.

    There was evidence that there was a skill behind it as well as a set of techniques that if somebody is aware of, they can certainly become a wee bit funnier.

    BB005 | Being funnyTalk a little bit about the process that you went through. You were not a comedian, and you really don’t want to be a comedian. I think you did it for this purpose of research. Talk a little bit about how you got into that.

    I was definitely more of a kicker and screamer doing it. Public speaking has always been my biggest fear. To be honest, I would have described it as a crippling fear until a friend of mine suffered a spinal cord injury. His insurance had basically cut him off, and we were looking for ways to do fundraisers and keep funding his continued rehabilitation as the hospital bills increased, we were looking for ways to fundraise and fund his continuous rehabilitation. I suggested a comedy show, which wasn’t the best plan I’ve ever had in hindsight. It wasn’t that I was going to do the comedy show, I just knew a couple of comedians. One in particular, he said he’d do it. What I didn’t anticipate was my friends insisting that I host the event. What they did not know is that at University, my nickname had been Shaken Stevens because of the mess I turned into. The paper in my hand started shaking whenever I had to publicly speak, and it just seemed to transcend somehow into the rest of my body.

    I did not want to do it at all. To be honest, compared to what my friend was going through, it just didn’t seem like that it was one of the things that I could back down from. I said, “I better get my head around this.” It was very much a conscious decision at that point. I had to figure this out; who are the world’s Malcom Gladwell 10,000 hour–rule true masters of public speaking? And then I figured that must be comedians. They are on stage in more adverse conditions than anybody else.

    For a full year, I pretended to be a comedian, which sounds like an absolutely terrible plan. I crashed a couple of comedy clubs and shows and did my best to not tell anyone about it, and I did it all under the extremely creative stage name of Irish Dave. It seemed too obvious to me, but Americans seemed to like it.

    We like the obvious; Americans like the obvious.

    Irish Dave doesn’t seem to me to be funny at all, but it was catchy. It saved me in explaining to my family and friends over and over again what I was up to. They were like, “Really, you’re going to take a full year to try and be a comedian with no intention to try and be a full-time comedian? That does not sound like a good plan. Just never mind the fact that you hate public speaking.”

    What I find so fascinating about it is that you were not someone who was known for being funny before that. Correct?

    It depends on who you ask. I’d say my mother and a select group of people that I would probably pay to say I am funny would have said that I was fairly funny, but it went to pieces when I was on stage. I went to pieces in any form of public speaking. For me, even if I hit on some humor sometimes, it was kind of a hit and miss. I didn’t realize that there are underlying techniques. I was kind of funny, I would like to think.

    If you go to Ireland and ask people if they are naturally funny, most people would say, “Absolutely.” It is quite different in the States, where people seem to think that they are not naturally funny. Being funny on stage and being funny off the stage are two quite different things. The funny thing is that if you become funnier on stage and you learn some techniques to facilitate you, you would be funnier off stage. It tends to rub off on you and you find yourself speaking with some of the techniques from on stage to off stage. It definitely does transcend.

    There are other people who are just not funny. Even if you teach them all the techniques in the world, they are just not going to be funny.

    I think with everybody, whether funny or not—and there certainly are some people who are a bit more naturally unfunny and are pretty serious—you can always draw some form of entertainment out of them. Those people who have seen something happen in front of them that was funny, they would have seen something at some stage, something that would make them laugh. Most of the time, being funny is just repeating that particular thing that made you laugh in an effective manner.

    What a lot of people do is they get lost in the additional words or the awkwardness of delivery, or they don’t really know how to structure it, like they will put in all these extra details that kill the laugher. A lot of times, all it is is taking something you enjoy and sharing it with other people. The missing link is those people who consider themselves not funny. Nobody has said, “That is a great story, but you need to retell it like this, because this is the way to make it funnier.” A lot of times, it is just an awareness of those underlying things that allow you, even if you are not naturally funny, to be a little bit funnier.

    It is interesting to me that you can take a story that a CEO, an entrepreneur, or an executive tells in a public speech, presentation, or in a meeting, and by using some of the techniques you are talking about, you can make it a little bit funnier, which means that people will be more engaged. I find that as a speaker and when I lead things, when people are laughing, they are actually learning.

    One hundred percent. The most engaged your audience will ever be is just after the moment that you make them laugh. There’s an expression I love that goes, “The end of laughter is followed by the height of listening.” Whenever you are in a conference, and most people are generally sleeping, because the speakers are not the most exciting normally. When someone gets up there who makes you laugh all of a sudden, you hear it and you are receptive to it; it creates an engagement and an awareness all of a sudden, and you are like, “Oh, give me more of that.” It is the most alert that you will be. It would be easy to take things that you like sharing and stories you like doing, and just quickly identify the key funny part and understand how to best deliver that on stage in a way that is going to facilitate that engagement.

    Business speakers aren’t looking to be comedians; they are just looking to have people’s attention, and that is something that is increasingly harder to do.

    Give us an example of one technique that people could use that actually helps make something funnier in their speaking.

    The first thing is having something that you feel is funny or enjoyable, and then taking that story and asking yourself, What is the key surprise in that story? What is the funny bit? Where do people normally laugh when they share it to family and friends? Where do they normally react? And how do I get to that particular point in a more effective manner?

    BB005 | Being funny

    Being funny is about identifying the key point of the story and timing the key word or part to be at the end. | Image via Olatz eta Leire

    We were speaking once upon a time about sheep in cars, which sounds like it might have been a strange party that we met at in the first place. But just to pick a story, if you are telling a story about a sheep being in a car, something that would be a bit strange in California but not too strange in my part of the world, ask yourself, What is going to be the key part of that story? It’s easy: There is a sheep in a car. Is that strange? Is that unusual? That could be potentially funny, and it normally gets a laugh. How do I tell that story in a way that my timing would look better, that gets me to that key reveal? The reveal is the surprising part of the story. How do I put that key word at the end? If I put the key word, the key part, the key change at the end of the story, it would make it interesting. Now I wanted to say that in the car there was a sheep. That makes a massive difference because it allows the people to follow the timing of it and keeps the surprise until the last minute. It also stops me from talking after the key word, which in effect allows people to laugh. That makes a massive difference because it keeps the surprise until the last minute. It also stops me from talking after the key word, which in effect allows people to laugh.

    That is what business speakers don’t realize. When they hit on something funny, everything they say after the key funny word is likely to stop the audience’s reaction straight away. If they just stumble on something funny, but they keep talking, then the audience would want to hear more. They are literally sitting there thinking, “Give me more!” They stop and start listening. It actually stops your own laughter. It is realizing the story you have, what is the funny component? How do I get there more effectively? And how do I structure it in a way that is most likely to give me success and allow the audience to appreciate what I am saying, and react to it?

    Well, and I think the time to react to it is giving that silence. That is what I see a lot when I work with CEOs and executives on their presentations. They often don’t pause, and they just keep on running through because they are afraid of that silence. When people are laughing, stop and let them laugh. When the laughter is over, continue on.

    One hundred percent. It is not just applicable to the humorous items. If you have a key metric in there and your key metric is ”We have an 80 percent year-on-year growth rate,” you want to structure that so the key element—the exact same as the sheep in the car, but in this case it’s the 80 percent that is the key element—you need to change that sentence to allow people to soak it up and react to it. It is not “We had an 80 percent year-on-year growth rate.” But it is “We had a year-on-year growth rate of 80 percent.” You slow it down, pause, and make sure that is the end of your sentence. Automatically, your timing looks better. It applies whether you are going for a laugh line or an impact line of something important you want to draw people’s attention to.

    That is a great tip. By the way, your next book should be titled, “Sheep in the Car.”

    Sheep in the Car! Ha! I’m not writing any more books ever, but if I do, I think it’d be way too stereotypical if I wrote about sheep in a car.

    When you think about CEOs, entrepreneurs, and executives looking at and using humor, what lessons can these people take away about humor from those top TED talks?

    I think the most important one is there is an expectation for you to be somewhat funny. If you don’t think so, just go into one of these top talks or go to your next conference and wait until you go on after the funny person. I think we all know that feeling where you are standing backstage, for those of us who have done public speaking, and you’re like, “Oh, that person is crushing it; they’re doing so well. Everybody’s laughing. I’m going next with my one, maybe, joke.” You really get to feel it in that moment waiting to go on stage, and you think that what you have isn’t as good as it could have been. A nice thing for CEOs or any business leaders, looking at the top TED talks at the moment and any of the top speakers, is that the humor that they are using is extremely replicable. They are not trying to be funny, and they are not going for funny one-liners; they are just looking naturally funny. They are doing that by telling stories. They are identifying the key part of the story, and they structure it exactly the way a stand-up comedian would so there is a level of a flip of expectations. The key part is at the end, and it looks extremely natural.

    There is never that moment, the one that especially worries business leaders, where you are visibly seen trying to be funny, and the audience decides that they are not going to laugh. They know that you are trying to be funny. When they know that you are trying to be funny with something that is very visibly a joke or cheesy humor, they have the opportunity to disengage really quickly. You are telegraphing your intent. If you are just telling a story, and that’s what we were seeing in all these top TED Talks, or they were structuring it in a way where there just happens to be a sequence that sounds quite natural, you then don’t have that risky moment that really worries business people. They are like, “I don’t want to have egg on my face. I don’t want to stand there really awkwardly. I don’t wanna be met with a sea of groaning noises.”

    BB005 | Being funny

    David on being funny at the FunnyBizz SF Conference.

    The humor doesn’t have to be just verbal. In some of the TED talks, some of the humor is in the images people show, right?

    One of my favorites at the moment is Tim Urban’s about procrastination, which was TEDx Vancouver’s main stage this year, which I think has the highest view count at the moment, but it is certainly the funniest. To give you an idea, he gives you 2.6 laughs a minute. To give you an element of comparison, the Hangover movie gets in around the same amount of 2.9 to 3 laughs per minute. The funniest movies of all time will make you laugh about the same times per minute, as a lot of these leading TED talks. When you break it down a bit, an average of about 35 to 36 percent of the laughs generated in this talk are linked to the use of images within this talk. He is really just using funny and engaging content that either he’s created… For the most part in his talk, he’s created them.

    If you look at the talk of author and very famous marketer Seth Godin, about 57 percent of the laughs that he gets in his funniest Ted talk are from the use of images. Most are just some that he got online, or taking a photo of himself, or are already socially proven. He knows that people are going to laugh and react to this. The key thing is just setting them up in the key way. The images really give you an easy advantage over funny people like comedians, because they would give their left arm to just show funny pictures and videos that other people make, and it’s something that is accessible to business speakers that a lot of the time they don’t use. What we are seeing now is the most successful ones are doing it.

    Is there a particular way that you have to set up the image so that it is funny?

    Yes, and I would say that that is one of the things that I can see going sideways at conferences most of the time. They show a kind of funny image, and they just stand there and look at it as something that is funny, like, “Look at that; that is something funny.”

    It has the potential of being funny.

    They think, “If I just stare at it long enough, they might react.” The key thing is that it is quite a sequence where you have to treat the image as the funny thing. It is not what you say after you show the image, but very much what you say before the image. You treat the image like the sheep in the car, like the punch line. What is the key reveal to your sentence? Then that is always going to be the image.

    For example, if you are very emotional and stressed out about something, instead of saying to people that you are, you say, “I looked exactly like this.” You then pause for a second and have a photo of a young girl in front of a fire hydrant with the water blasting her in the face. It looks stressful and wacky, and everybody laughs because you have built up the image itself as the funny bit, and not what you are going to say after you show the image.

    In Tim Urban’s talk, he had a flip of expectations. He said, “Well brain science is extremely complex, and some of you won’t understand it, but I’ve used this diagram,” and I thought, “Well let’s just have a try.” He showed a very simplistic image of a monkey inside the brain with a drawing that looked like it had been done by an eight-year-old. The image is the funny part. If you are playing a video that is already funny, you just set it up and you let the video get the laughs, and not just you going, “Hey, let’s watch the video!” And then just saying something after it: “Oh, that was funny.”

    It is interesting because in one of the talks I do on branding and marketing and becoming a thought leader, I tell a story. I start to talk by telling the story. I talk a little bit about someone I met and how I felt meeting that person. After I did this—and you are validating me so I know I did the right thing—after I finished setting it up, I flipped to one of the pictures, and the picture is of the Wicked Witch of the West from the book The Wizard of Oz. People always laugh, but I wondered why they laughed. I realized that they laughed because I set it up, and then the visual is what closes it. That is what it does. The visual closes the joke or the humorous part.

    A great example of that was President Obama this week in the White House correspondence speech. He said, “You can only show how I have aged by looking at me and Michelle in photos. Michelle gives it away. You can’t tell that she has aged at all, but you can tell I have aged.” He shows an image of them together looking really normal, which was the first element of the sequence. Then he shows an image of him looking a little bit older. And then the third element—which, by the way, it’s always expected that the third element is going to be the funny one—so the third element of the sequence is an image of Michelle Obama next to a skeleton. That is a huge laugh, and he set it up, and he literally just let the images do the work for him. He is not trying to make any smart comments after it.

    Very much everything funny in comedy is a lot of times—and writers know this—linked to the rule of three, which is the idea that three is the smallest sequence here that your mind can identify as a pattern. In comedy, the third element in that sequence is always the change. One and two will be very usual and creating a pattern, while three breaks the pattern. President Obama’s example in one and two are very normal images, while three is the exaggerated effect or element, and you are effectively breaking the pattern. That break in the pattern and the flip of expectations usually results in laughter.

    BB005 | Being funny

    Being funny comes in a three step format as demonstrated by this joke by President Obama. | Image via

    The brain can put it in a pattern of three, so the brain is actually expecting it to be apple – apple – apple. But if you do apple – apple – orange, the brain makes it funny because of the breaking pattern.

    Apple – apple – orange is comedy. I have never heard it explained that way, but I have never heard of people talking about sheep in cars before either.

    It’s not funny, but it works.

    I used to box when I was at University, and it was very much jab, jab, and then hook. It was always two things and then another one. Your brain never expects that third one coming. It expects the third one, but it expects the third one to be the same as the first two. Comedy writers, marketers, and anyone in copywriting who is trying to produce anything remotely funny or memorable always uses patterns of three elements. Comedians just always make sure that that last element is the orange.

    Where is the fine line of being funny and hokey?

    If you just stick with telling stories that are meaningful for you, that you care about, and the audience could never see that you are trying to be funny, your story seems to have a funny component, and you just happen to make it look natural and have that exact right place at the end of the sentence, it is really just that you are sharing a little slice of humanity with them, and it just happens to be entertaining. In that way, it is not for you to try to come up with Jerry Seinfeld’s wit, which is fantastic. But as the average writer, businessman, or comedian trying to be funny, they can’t replicate what he is doing.

    When it doesn’t work, that is the time you can end up being hokey, or you can end up being seen as having egg on your face. To avoid that, you just have to stick with images that are already socially proven, videos that are already viral, or stories from your life or from your business life. It may be a strange customer or strange scenario that you have or exaggerating the pain point of the product you have, and what it is like not to have this product. Then you can have fun with something that has meaning to your audience, and it does not look like you are trying to be funny.

    Lots of business people get in trouble because they try to be funny. They tell jokes or they say things that they think are going to be funny, and it is not, because they are trying too hard as opposed to just telling a story, naturally being funny, and using the techniques to highlight the story with humorous elements.

    It is not normally trying too hard to be funny, but it is when your audience can visibly see that. Comedians will put an average of 22 hours work into 1 minute of content in a 60-minute yearly special. They tend to produce an hourly special each year—22 hours of work just to look like they made it up at the top of their head. The main goal of that time is to make it look spontaneous and to avoid looking like you are trying to be funny. You can really shortcut that process as a business speaker just by speaking with short form stories and setting them up so that they can relate to the audience. The most powerful thing you can do with storytelling, or in any form of performance, is to allow the audience to see themselves within your story.

    It is very important to make an opening statement in a way on why you are telling this and why it’s relatable. Tell your short-form story. The reason that you are telling it in the first place just so happens to be at the end. That way, you are not visibly seen as trying to be funny.

    You have a company called FunnyBizz. Tell the audience about what FunnyBizz does.

    We take any form of written content and make it funnier. Anybody who is doing anything in writing, whether it be blog posts, funnel emails, or white papers, we send it to a bunch of very high-level comedians to punch it up. Not with the aim of making it hilarious, but more so to increase engagement, right, which is a real pain point for companies. I run a conference around that as well, where we try to demonstrate using comedy in any form within the business realm to really give people a how-to: Here is what happened, here is how you can make it cool, here is how you can do it too.

    What do you find when you get this writing from people? What do you find as one of the biggest problems with people’s writing that makes it not funny?

    My writing is totally rubbish as well, so I can’t be critical in any way. I write my own stuff, and I’m like, “Oh gosh; I give up!” I sent out this one email this morning, and I’m like, “I tried to be funny with this email, but you can see it has the funny factor of a dead penguin. I need my own product, and so do you.” Sometimes just acknowledging your own failure is a way of being funny.

    I did one yesterday, which was a very long script for a conference, and it was just so full of buzz words: “We highlight this, we X this, we multiply this metric.” That is all great, but surely you have a customer and you could just tell me how your product helped them. Put a name to that person, put a story around them, and how did you make a difference? Now, let us connect those to the other elements of your talk, presentation, or content. When you are really trying to emphasize the hard sales or using the industry buzz words, you make it hard for people to relate to what you are writing at a human level. That is what is missing a lot of the time in the stuff that we work on. It is usually overwritten or is too complex when you want it to come across as something that is more conversational.

    I personally think that being funny is a critical skill in building a successful brand today. I would love to know your take on that.

    I am all for being funny. I think being funny is critical and it is expected. Some people think that they don’t have that, and some companies obviously do it more than others, but there is a lot of interest and research around being funny. I think it was 97 percent of CEOs are identified as having a great sense of humor. Whether you are leading a company or creating your own product, people expect a human element to it. They don’t get lost in the bingo words we use or the jargon, like B2B or B2C. They are just human to human. They expect to interact with a human. They expect your content or yourself to have a bit of personality.

    If you are advertising your brand or you are promoting it in any way, more and more you are going to be in mediums like Facebook, where people are going to consume entertainment. If you are competing for their attention or if you are building your brand across those mediums, then there is an expectation for you to be entertaining in some way. That is what I see in a lot of companies that I have worked with. They really feel like they are putting out all this content and nobody is consuming it: What are we doing wrong? I think a lot of the time being humorous or being playful or just being human allows you a real advantage in building your brand. Humor is certainly a big tool that you can utilize in doing so.

    I am wondering if, like in writing how writers always have a “voice,” if people also have a “voice” when they are humorous or a style of being funny or being humorous, even if they are not comedians.

    I think they do, and the funny thing is, if you copy the style of Chris Rock and go to the next conference, there is a huge chance that you are going to be thrown out of that conference. His style is pretty much his personality, and it is very hard to copy personality. I think it is Jerry Seinfeld that said, “In comedy, the closer you get to being yourself, the funnier you will be.” Comedians go through a long process, and the same with writers. Writers basically try and find their voice, but you can always circumvent that process.

    In writing, for me, I dictated my book. If I dictate the book, then surely that is my voice. I’ve just saved myself a lot of writing because I’m not very good at writing. If you pick up something that I have written, you should say that it is like I spoke those words, because I did. When comedians are going through that creative process, at the start they are aiming to be on a five-minute television slot because, that is the marker of success, and usually the breaking point. When they get on a late-night TV show like Conan or one of these big TV shows, they get on stage for more time. People want to see them for an hour. They don’t have an hour of making witty, short observations, so they start going on to their own personal stories. All of a sudden, they are said to have found their voice. But realistically, what’s happened over those many years, they just became closer to being themselves.

    We all have that within us. In America people journal a lot, more so than they do here, and it’s very deep and emotional stuff. They’ll write, “Last Tuesday I was emotionally traumatized, and I felt really unhappy, and I’ve never been like this.” Who wants to read that emotional stuff? That’s the stuff that people are going to skip over when they are reading in your journal. What we tell business leaders and anybody creating content to do is to get out their iPhones or smart phones and start a Funny Stories file. And every time you see something funny and that makes you laugh, or you hear a story and you’re like, “Oh I have a story like that.” When something happens embarrassing or wacky, write it down, because all that stuff is funny and will be funny. You will then have a bank of pure happiness that you can tap into when you are creating your own content. The nice thing is that it will probably save you reading that journal as well. Cause you are like, “Well I have my smart phone here, and it reminds me of all the cool, funny things that have happened to me in the past year.”

    Now granted, there are some embarrassing things in there. Everything that is embarrassing or traumatic for you is funny. The only question is, are you comfortable in telling people about it? If it is the first time you failed in something, there is always humor in the learning process. It is just building a file of things like that to be able to tap into. All of a sudden, the people who were like, “I’m not really funny; I’ve got nothing to share,” they are now like, “Wait a minute; I have a whole file of things that I can draw upon.” That is key in building your brand, whether it is public speaking or you just want to get out there and use some humor in a non-cheesy way. That really gives you the ammunition to do it.

    You’ve given me personally that tip before when we’ve talked, and I’ve done it. I call it my funny file. I keep a funny file based on that tip, and I think it’s a fabulous, fabulous idea.

    Thanks, and honestly, all comedians have been doing that forever. The comedian’s big advantage in the world of being funny is that they are out there consciously not just looking for funny stuff, but documenting it. I am living in San Francisco, and all I have to do is walk to the Tenderloin District and keep my eyes open, and see wacky stuff which will happen in five minutes. I just document that, and now I would just have to link that to a business topic.

    A lot of the time, that is easy to do. People see it and say, “That’s related to my talk.” My point is, if you like it, make it be related to your talk.

    You can always integrate it into your talk.

    Build your talk around the humanized, humorous story components that you like sharing with people. The nice thing in that is that it is your story. When it comes to public speaking, nobody knows it better than you. If you screw up and leave something out, nobody knows. It takes a lot of pressure off you as a public speaker on stage, when you are trying to memorize stuff, to just be sharing your stories with the world.

    Do you still do public speaking or comedy?

    I do. I don’t do a whole lot on comedy. I did a conference in New Orleans where I was interviewed on a Collision Tech conference with 11,000 people. I don’t want to look like an idiot on stage, so I will try and practice beforehand.

    Public speaking is very much like anything in that if you do not do it in a while, you get rusty fast. So just to get that nerve pathway in the brain going again, and the words to get quicker and to be comfortable to get up there, I will want to get some practicing beforehand, if it is either stand-up comedy or some form of storytelling event in the evening. So I do do it, but only if I have something coming up. In hosting my own conference, I will do some stand-up comedy or get on stage on any format, whether it is giving a talk at a co-working space or in a library or volunteering somewhere, just to get on stage and work out a few of the kinks. It’s kind of fun too. If I just have something in my mind that I want to get out there, or I’m writing something and I want to test it out in front of a live audience, it gives me a medium to get out there and try it.

    BB005 | Being funny

    Learn about being funny and growing your brand at the FunnyBizz Conference.

    Interesting. I know you host this conference on being funny. Can you talk about the conference and the kind of people you have speak?

    We have never structured it so that we only have a keynote speaker; we have 12 speakers. I think 8 of the 12 we have coming up are all very much business, but they all have a sneaky background in performance or stand-up comedy. They are creative directors within companies, or they are content marketers or CEOs and founders. We have Scott Dikkers, who is the founder of The Onion on there. We have Marty Wilson, who is a great speaker from Australia who was an Australian Comedian of the Year at one stage and has written about 15 books. These guys happen to have a huge advantage on stage because of all that comedy training and performance training.

    We were really looking to find people who could very much give a TED-style talk with a lot of active takeaways, but every one of them was funny. They were funny because they had that sneaky element of training in comedy and background. This somehow kick-started their career in creative pursuits or they abandoned being a comedian for working at some company like Lyft and became a creative director. These guys and girls seem to have a pattern where they had some element of performing arts in their background that they utilized within their career.

    We try to bring all those people together in one place to teach people how to put out less boring content.

    This comes up so often in this podcast no matter who I am talking to, this element of performance, being funny, entertaining, of people having this in their background. I have acting in my background. So many people I know comment that performance is really useful to have in your background in business period.

    We have certainly seen that in a lot of talks we were analyzing. When I was writing my book, I was trying to figure out who were the best business speakers out there and why. If they were unusually funny, what made them so? If they are really good on stage, what gave them the advantage in doing that?

    Recently I was reading Originals, the book by Adam Grant, where they had said that there is a study of scientific Nobel Prize winners. They had said that those involved in the performing arts were 22 times more likely to win a Nobel Prize than the average of their peers. I think that study was done by the Highway Group. It made me stop and think, “Really? Twenty-two times more likely? That just sounds insane.” When you are looking at these people doing creative and innovative things, at some stage, they were doing something performance orientated, or maybe they just didn’t pursue their original passion, but they found a way to build that into their work.

    When they get recognized for their work, all of a sudden they are doing a lot of public speaking on business, and they end up doing a TED Talk about it. All of a sudden they have really put in those 10,000 hours that make a master just by chance as they were pursuing a different dream. That skill set of theirs lent itself into a new role.

    I think that is what makes this whole thing so fascinating. The power of performance is something anyone can learn. It doesn’t mean that anyone can be a comedian or an actor, but that power of performance and techniques from performance can be learned as a skill.

    I knew nothing about comedy apart from watching it, but I do now. When I started this, I knew absolutely nothing. I had never been on stage in any format and did not have ambitions to be a performer in any way. What these guys are saying is, “I don’t want to be a famous comedian. But if I want to be a funnier business speaker with the same techniques, how likely is that?” We have all been to conferences where people are boring the pants off of everybody from the stage. It is not that hard. The bar is really low for you.

    That is so true. The bar is so low!

    It’s really very true. If you make everyone laugh in a business conference, the audience just turns into like a group of happy dolphins slapping their hands together going backwards. They are like, “That was amazing! Did you hear that guy? So funny!”

    One joke will get you ranked as the funniest speaker sometimes. Stop walking out there saying, “I am very privileged to be in front of you; it’s my first time here,” because every single speaker said that. “I’m gonna share a story of…” Don’t do that. Just tell the story. It’s lots of little things like that that a performer wouldn’t do. They wouldn’t telegraph what they were going to do; they would just do it. Little changes like that will give you a huge advantage. You don’t have to want to be an actor or a comedian. You just really have to take an interest in what they are doing differently, and how you can apply that to what you want to do.

    I think it also has something to do with setting the expectation. There are a few ways to do that. One is, the person who introduces you has a big impact on the expectation that is set.

    Huge. What happens, and I think it’s the worst thing they could do when I go on stage is, “Next up, it’s David. He’s a comedian; he’s really funny.” I’m like, “Oh, I’m so in trouble.” That happened at my book launch; it was at the NASDAQ Center. I was like, “No, I only pretended to be a comedian for a year.” What happens when there is “Funny” on the book cover is that people say that you better be funny when you get up there. When someone says that David is a comedian and he is funny, which is mildly true, I’d like to think I am funny, but I’m not a comedian. My background is business, and this is something that I just did on the side. Then your expectation would be funny and not very business savvy.

    Whereas if that same person is given an introduction beforehand like, “Ladies and gentlemen, our next speaker is the author of a bestselling book. He was the contributor in this and that and the other. He has been featured in this. Please give it up for David.” He has sold me, so I don’t have to sell myself.

    Some friends of mine call that edifying you. He’s edified you.

    One hundred percent! They establish your credibility so you don’t have to spend the start of your talk listing your own achievements, which is a horrible thing to have to do. It is automatically seen as you are not human, you are not relatable, and people feel your talk is going to feel like sales.

    Your talk always begins with your introduction, and if you could give that introduction to someone beforehand in a way where they don’t mention your work and name until the very last words of that introduction, it will have a big impact on what you are about to say and how warm your welcome to the stage is going to be. You are building the anticipation very much like a comedy club. You’ll have heard this before, “Our next comedian has been featured on Comedy Central, he’s been on tour with Conan O’Brien; you have seen him everywhere. Here for us tonight is, ladies and gentlemen, we have…” And all of the minds are there saying, “Who is it?” There is the same level of expectation that is there with a joke, with a funny line, when you show them the sheep or the next image, you want to do it the same way as your introduction, where the only time that the name is said is last, and that is the way that the audience knows it’s time to applaud and warmly welcome you to the stage. Little things like that really do set you for success.

    I am deeply concerned about the degree to which, amount of which, and intensity with which you talk about sheep.

    You and me both. My mother is out there somewhere going, “I didn’t raise him like that! I tried to introduce him to nice girls!”

    Your mother is out there throwing up her hands saying, “It’s not my fault. Don’t blame me!”

    I might have been a farmer, but surely it’s not my fault.

    Exactly. It’s interesting because I was giving a presentation a few weeks ago, and two other speakers before me both had these big, loud, and booming introductory dazzling videos to introduce themselves. Anyone can do whatever they want. But for me, it is something that I would never do because I feel it would put me at almost a distance from the audience. I wouldn’t want to be at that much of a distance from the audience.

    It basically puts you on a pedestal all of a sudden. It makes you not really relatable, especially if it is a very high-quality produced video, and you look amazing. The audience is sitting there saying, “This speaker is amazing. I can’t relate to them because they have achieved too much. They will try to be funny, and I probably don’t like them, so I am not sure I am going to laugh at their jokes.” Although you have certainly grabbed the audience’s attention at the start, you won’t really get anywhere on the likability side. You are up there to be memorable, tell stories, and be relatable, someone people can relate to and take action on. The video doesn’t really help that. We had a speaker who did the same thing with a very polished video. The guy had business achievements that netted him over $400 million. He had a fantastic video that he played that made him look like Elvis. Like he was Elvis combined with everybody. It was Mick Jagger meets Elvis meets Mark Cuban, all rolled into one for success. All of a sudden, people weren’t responding to him or responding to his jokes.

    When you are in a position of power like that, you really want to make fun of yourself a bit. President Obama was great in doing this. We just asked this guy to do the same. He still played the video because he really liked it, but he said, “If my wife made it, it would be a very different story. She likes my failures. Let me tell you about a few of them…” It just humanized him. What I have to say is that you just stay away from video as much as you can, and stay as human and as humble as possible. You’re not going to see a TED talk too often where the guy or girl plays an amazing video of them self and then comes out on stage. From a production standpoint, they know how that’s likely to affect the performance of the speaker and the crowd’s reaction to that speaker. Go for a relatable and human aspect over flashy videos every time.

    Again, and I think that’s beautiful what you had that speaker do, was he had all of that but with humor, you had him bring it down to a human level, with humor.

    He had to make fun of himself before anybody else would laugh at his jokes and relate to what he was saying.

    For me, personally, I wouldn’t use it, but I’m not going to have a negative view if anyone else uses it. The point here that you are making, and I completely agree with, is that people won’t laugh and they are not as engaged if you are too distant from them. If they can’t see themselves in you and your story, they are not going to be as engaged or see you as being funny. 

    You just make your own life much harder. If they can’t relate to you and they can’t see themselves in your shoes… Like if I tell you that when I was young, I had this beat-up car and don’t give you any other details, that’s it. But if I tell you, “Oh, I had this car, and it was a Ford Fiesta, and it had one door, the other one just sort of fell off. The sunroof actually flew off one day and smashed into a cop car that was following behind us.” Which, this actually did happen. The exhaust was hanging off, it was a real junker, brown and disgusting.” When you hear of this, you then make an image in your head of an old beat-up car that your father or first boyfriend or girlfriend had. You start to create a visual of that story in your mind. That is the most powerful thing that you can do in public speaking is you allow the audience to see themselves in your story. It is hard to do that with a flashy video.

    BB005 | Being funny

    Being funny doesn’t come natural to everyone, but there are techniques you can use to get better at it.

    Fabulous. So one other question for you on being funny: When you think about some of the top tips of how to be funnier, to make your brand funnier, to make your presentation funnier, what are your favorite tips for that?

    It’s quite easy just to take something and exaggerate it. If I’m a rideshare company like Uber or Lyft, and I’m trying to get people away from taking the bus and position Lyft as the alternative to that, I don’t want to just take the easy route and describe it as a bus. I want to exaggerate it. What a comedian will do that always makes a big difference is try to add some emotion to that. “Do you really not want to take Lyft? Do you really want to take the bus every day?” I heard a comedian describe it as a steel, gray tube of sadness. I think that acquainted to people who commute. They are like, “Yeah, that sums up what it’s like every time I have to get on the bus.” It’s entertaining, but it’s kind of sad because they don’t really enjoy it.

    If you are creating a script or you are being playful with your brand, just play on the pain point. Uber, at their conference, when they were doing it, making advertisements, they emphasized all the pain points in conference calling. We’ve all done that where it’s like, “Oh, is Jim on the line yet? Is Bob dialed in? Oh, he will be with me in a minute. What’s the code again? 7642AB or something more complex?” You’re like, “Well this is ridiculous, but we still use it.” What they did was rather emphasized all their selling points. They just made their funny and quirky videos around the pain points of using an alternative product. This is what your life is going to be like if you don’t come with us. In a funny and quirky way, they exaggerated some of the items and they did it to trigger an emotional response in people.

    To quickly be funny, take something and take the flip side. What is it like if they don’t do this or they don’t have our product? Can we exaggerate that a bit and make it more playful? If your descriptions are three elements, and if the third element is the flip item, when you are delivering the story of that exaggeration in person, the key funny word is hidden until the end, and it makes your timing look awesome. All of a sudden, you are starting to get really funny. If that sounds way too much for you, as a brand or a speaker or anybody, especially a speaker, go on stage. If somebody does something funny, just repeat it. The easiest way to get a laugh is to just call back and reference the speaker before you that said something funny, and just call the attention to the same joke. Mention it again or build on it again. Comedians call that a callback, but essentially it’s just repeating something that was already funny and making it a little bit funny again.

    Fabulous tip. So I’m going to ask you a couple of questions that don’t have to do with this topic on being funny but have to do with you. These are questions that I’ve started asking all my guests, based on Inside the Actors Studio. These are not those questions, but I got the idea from it. The first question is: Who is someone in your life who has a huge and positive impact on you, and what is the impact?

    My friend Arash, who suffered a spinal cord injury, and he was the one who ultimately gave me the TED Talk at the Ted event. We did a charity event for him that started all of this mess. He has been very inspiring. He was told that he was never going to stand up again. But there are times where he stood up on his own, and he also started to walk in a swimming pool after four years of really hard work. He has had the biggest positive impact in my life because he has really proven very visibly that a lot of people will tell you that it can’t be done, and that doesn’t mean that you can’t do it.

    Who is someone in your life who has a negative impact on you? No names please!

    Most of the lads that I grew up with back in Ireland is perhaps the answer to this. Ireland is very good at poking fun at anyone who is doing something extreme outside the normal. It was pretty funny growing up with them. If I had told them that I would be a comedian for a year and was going to write this book, they would say, “What are you doing that for?” It’s funny; I would be telling them that as well if one of my mates told me that was his plan. I’d make fun of it.

    It does have a little bit of negative impact on me, just because it is never fun when some people shoot down an idea. I think America is more responsive to that, and I don’t know if that is a good thing or a bad thing. Someone can be like, “I think I’m going to sell dead penguins on the internet.” They will be like, “That’s an amazing business! You should do that! You could have some real success with it!” They don’t even stop to tell you it’s a terrible idea. When you sell dead penguins on the internet here in Ireland, they are like, “That’s a shocking idea. You must be taking drugs to come up with that.”

    If you could give your younger self one piece of advice, what would it be?

    Focus. Pick something you want to do and just put everything toward doing that, and do not get distracted by going around the world and travelling for many years, which was fun, but it is always possible at any stage. I am very glad I did it, but I would have liked to create something that I could stand back from saying to myself, “I did this because I focused solely on creating this one thing and doing that well.” And then I’d want to have fun as much as I could before I go and create something else. I have travelled around the world for a number of years, trying to learn languages and having as much fun as possible, which was great. But I would have liked to focus on one particular goal before I did that.

    You are not only charming and have a great accent, but I have to say that you have been very funny in sharing about being funny.

    Thanks very much.

    Thank you for joining us today; it is a pleasure to have you on the show.

    Thanks very much for having me.

    Important Links

    About David Nihill – Founder of FunnyBizz and Author of Do You Talk Funny?

    David NihillBorn and raised in Dublin, Ireland, David is the Founder of FunnyBizz, a community, writer platform, and conference series helping content creators tap into the power of storytelling, comedy and improv to create better content. He has performed standup comedy at Californi’ís leading clubs including Cobbs, the Comedy Store, the Improv and the Punchline even though he strongly denies being a comedian and is well aware most people don’t understand his accent. His learning, taken from one years intensive experiments in comedy,performed on someone from the business community with a huge initial fear of public speaking (ie him!) have been featured in Inc., Lifehacker, The Huffington Post, Forbes,Fast Company and became the best selling book, Do You Talk Funny?

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    This article is copyrighted by Karen Leland and cannot be reprinted in any form, electronic or otherwise, without the express written permission of Karen Leland.

    Karen Leland is President of Sterling Marketing Group, a branding and marketing strategy and implementation firm. She works with individuals, businesses and teams to enhance their business and personal brands. Her clients include LinkedIn, American Express, Apple, Marriott Hotels and others. Her ninth book, The Brand Mapping Strategy: Design, Build and Accelerate Your Brand, (Entrepreneur Press, 2016) is available online at, Barnes and, and in bookstores now.