Leadership + People: Episode 58 - John Bates - Part 1 of 2
In this episode speech coach and businessman John Bates shares the key differentiator in engaging with your audience and how to overcome that paralyzing fear of public speaking. Discussing the brain, Bates uses science to explain the need for emotional connection and how powerful a tool it is at every level.
Why vulnerability in public speaking leads to greater engagement [02:43]
Pitches are won not by logic but by emotional connections [06:03]
How that gut feeling is more than digestion, it is our ancient brain communicating with us [07:54]
The historic dangers and benefits of public speaking considering Socrates, Joan of Arc and Jesus [13:46]
Wise words from Snoop Dogg himself: Don’t be nervous. Be at their service [16:30]
Advice he wished he had after an eighty million dollar lesson [19:40]
Ryan Holiday The Obstacle is the Way
This episode of Leadership and People was originally released on: November 13th, 2018
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Welcome to Leadership and People. This is a series that pulls back the curtain on leadership by interviewing CEOs, Senior Executives and Entrepreneurs who had large exits. We ask these experts about how they built trusted networks to rapidly grow their companies. And what advice they wish they knew if they could do it all again.
JL: Today on the show we’ve got John Bates.
JOHN BATES: “Started going to TED. And I started watching Ted Talks. And everybody around me started watching Ted Talks. And all of a sudden everyone’s watching Ted Talks. Well you know what dawned on me recently is, that is how everything happened for our entire history as a species, up until radio and television.”
01:20 JL: John, thanks for making time.
JOHN BATES: My pleasure. Thank you.
01:25 JL: So give us the 30 second elevator pitch on your background and what you’re up to these days.
Connecting with Messes Not Successes
JOHN BATES: Well, my why is to bring out what’s awesome inside every person. So they can live in the world and make a real difference. And how I do that is through leadership communications training, that’s based in human evolutionary biology and human neurophysiology. So I can show people not only what works when it comes to communicating with human beings, but why it works based in science.
01:58 JL: I love it. So you’ve done a lot of Tedx Talks and Ted and you’ve coached all sorts of folks. It was really fun when I was getting ready for this to see that you’ve coached Dolph Lundgren. Cause I’d just watched his Ted Talk not knowing that you’d been involved with that.
JOHN BATES: Oh really.
02:16 JL: So that was kind of a fun connection for me.
JOHN BATES: That’s cool.
02:18 JL: When was that by the way?
JOHN BATES: Gosh. I would have to go and look at the day. I think it was 2016 or something …
02:27 JL: Okay.
JOHN BATES: Maybe late 2016. But boy that was a real pleasure. I’ll tell you Dolph Lundgren is an amazing an amazing guy. As you probably could tell from his talk. Yeah.
02:43 JL: Yeah. I really didn’t see it going where it went. So it was a great surprise. And like, you know, really meaningful subject matter that I didn’t necessarily expect that level of depth or that he was going to go there, you know?
JOHN BATES: Yeah. Well you know, one of the things that I like to tell people is a quote from a guy names Les Brown which says that people don’t connect with your successes. They connect with your messes. Your message is in your mess. And I have to say Dolph was very willing to talk about that. I think he came wanting to talk about that. And I think the real value is when someone shares something that real and that deep. It’s meaningful. I mean you… He worked out some stuff the hard way and then shared it with us so we can get it the easy way.
03:35 JL: Well isn’t it so easy to think, you know somebody who has that kind of success that the world recognizes in the Rocky movies and all the cool action stuff, right? You don’t expect to hear him talking about being abused by his dad and all the things that he ended up doing as mistakes in his life. You know, it seems like the way the media pushes us is to talk about the positives and all the admirable things and the look at me look at me style. I think by going that other direction… I think, I should check but I think it has 11 million views so far or something. And it seems like that super legit authenticity was so magnetic.
JOHN BATES: Yeah. And you know i mean that’s the thing. It’s one of the core principles of everything that I do. Which is why i was so happy that Dolph was down with that and came wanting to do that. The fundamental core, I think to great communication and great leadership is that deep authenticy. And the interesting thing is that it is very very wonderful to watch, and be around. But it is very very difficult to do. You know.
05:00 JL: Yeah. And I feel like you do that as well when you talk about starting your dot.com back in ’97 and raising eighty million dollars and then it didn’t turn into google. You know. And not covering that up but actually talking about it.
JOHN BATES: You know that was a hard thing for me to do for a long time. It still kind of knots me up to think that I just blew eighty million of somebody else’s dollars. And at the same time we gave it a really good run. We certainly gave it everything that we had. And we did what seemed like the smartest things at the time. But I still don’t want to share that. I’d much rather say I raised eighty million dollars and handed them back 8 billion. But that’s not what happened. And what I realized over time was that I had learned some lessons in that experience that meant something to other people, but in order to get those lessons across I had to talk about what a massive failure I had, you know?
06:03 JL: Yeah. Well can you tell us about this work you do now? And about some of that science behind why these techniques work?
The Biology of Communication
JOHN BATES: Sure. Yeah. You know, so fundamentally I tell people communicating with human beings is not logical. It’s biological. And once you understand the biology you can make it logical again. But if you go in thinking that logic by itself should win, you’ll always lose to someone who has the logic part handled but also has that other special something. So kind of the question is what is that special something? And for me, from all the reading that I’ve done and the research that I’ve done that fundamental, that something special, that something else, that people who seem to win at pitch competitions and who get their business ideas implemented and who get their teams to take action, the thing that they have beyond just logic, is an emotional connection. And of course, you know Jess you can imagine what it’s like to go in and tell a high level CEO that they need to go in and make an emotional connection [laugh] you know, sometimes there’s some push back right? So fundamentally though it’s not that everybody has to be holding hands and crying and, you know, having this tear full moment. It’s just some sort of a connection. And if you’d like me to I can tell you the fundamental biology underneath that if that would be interesting.
07:54 JL: Sure.
The Ancient Brain and the New Brain
JOHN BATES: Okay. So this… You know Jess, and anybody listening, this is one of the most fundamentally differentiating pieces of information that I ever got in my life. And I remember when this all really landed for me. And I really got it. My jaw just hit the floor. And it completely radically altered how I did everything in my life around communications. So it’s one of those kind of, you know, don’t be checking out into something else. This is really worth listening. So if you look at a human brain and you take a cross section of the human brain, in the middle you see the brain stem. The most ancient part of our brain. And then wrapped around that is the midbrain. And together these two pieces of our brain form what’s called the paleomammalian brain, or the limbic system or the emotional brain. Three names for the same thing. And this is the very old part of our brain. Paleomammalian. And then wrapped around that is the cerebral cortex, what’s also called the neocortex. And of course neo means new. That’s the new brain wrapped around the old brain. Now here’s how this plays out in communication. The old brain, the paleomammalian brain has been around for a really long time. And so two big things come from that. One is that it has… It is really good at keeping us alive, because that’s been its’ job this whole time. So it sees things that we would never consciously notice. But it sees them and notices them. And it smells things like pheromones. It might see things like your facial micro gestures. Things you’d never consciously notice. But your paleomammalian brain sees it and … it will smell things, it will hear things, it will notice patterns in things, long before your conscious brain. If your conscious brain even would. And it also, because it’s been around so long, this paleomammalian ancient brain is the part of the brain that actually has its hands on the steering wheel of our ability to take action. So all of our actions come from the paleomammalian brain not the logical neocortex. Now there’s an interesting thing because these two pieces of the brain communicate with us differently. The emotional brain does not have access to language or logic or reason. That stuff came later with the neocortex, the cerebral cortex, the new brain. The old brain, the paleomammalian brain doesn’t have access to language or logic or reason, so the way it communicates with us is through gut feelings. You’ve had that you know feeling ‘oh, this doesn’t feel right.’ ‘I don’t feel like doing that.’ ‘That doesn’t feel like the right thing.’ Well that’s the paleomammalian brain communicating with you because it can’t just tell you outright ‘hey just smelled their pheromones and they’re up to something bad’ or whatever. They also might say ‘hey I just read their facial micro gestures and they really like you. This is somebody we should hang out with.’ But that’s going to come to you as a feeling. As a gut feeling. It’s why your mom said trust your gut, because they’re usually right. We all think we live in our neocortex, our cerebral cortex, the part of the brain with language and logic and reason. And, you know, yes you may weigh things out and check the boxes and prepare to make a logical decision, but when we actually but you in an MRI machine, the most logical person in the world, if they have a normal functioning human brain, when we put them in a MRI machine and watch them actually make that decision, the paleomammalian ancient brain fires first making the decisions. And then right after that the neocortex fires either agreeing with or disagreeing with, but not making the decision. Now how this plays out in business, let’s talk about that. Is like this… this is an example. So see Jess if you’ve had something similar go on for you.
Do you like the product?
Oh yes we like the product. Yeah. It’s great.
Do you think it’s priced right?
Yeah, it’s a fair price.
Do you think it will make a difference if you had this product?
Oh yes certainly. We’d love to have it.
Well just want to sign a check and we’ll start delivery.
No. we still want to think about it a little bit. We’re not quite ready yet.
Does that sound familiar to you Jess? Have you ever had anything like that?
13:00 JL: [laugh] Yeah, being that I got my first sales job when I was fifteen, even as the CEO of an investment fund, I still considered myself top sales guy. Right?
JOHN BATES: Right.
13:09 JL: You hear that a lot right? Let’s do this. I think about all these things that you’re bring up. And there are so many applications for them. I’ve got a question for you. Let’s do this. Let’s take a quick sponsor break and then I’ve got a question for you.
JOHN BATES: Great.
13:25 JL: Okay John right before the sponsor break I was thinking about all the things that you are talking about. And I was thinking, you know, this show here Leadership and People, so often for leaders to really progress… Like it’s not good enough to just set an example. People have to find out you set a good example. Right?
JOHN BATES: Yep yep.
Public Speaking Throughout Time
13:46 JL: And you think about, just how many of the most influential leaders out there and the folks who have been able to help an entire organization want to go to the next level or want to start treating each other better, or anything like this, it requires kind of the ability to express yourself in a public environment. Yet all of these lizard brain things you are bring up drives so much fear. You know, it’s almost cliche how much people dislike public speaking. There’s all these things against it yet it is such… It’s almost like a super power for leaders if they can get comfortable with it enough that people are identifying with them, right? Or how would you say that differently?
JOHN BATES: I mean I would say there is no question Jess that you’re absolutely right about that. And you know when I went to Ted for the first time and I was so blown away by the speakers. And then I started going to TED. And I started watching Ted Talks. And everybody around me started watching Ted Talks. And all of a sudden everyone’s watching Ted Talks. Well you know what dawned on me recently is, that is how everything happened for our entire history as a species, up until radio and television. One person stood up in front of the group and made a suggestion or gave a speech or told them about an idea they had. And if they were really good at public speaking, then it was much more likely that the idea would be implemented and they would be raised in their level of power and their level of prestige and everything. And if it didn’t go well Jess, this is why people are so scared of it, you might even get tossed out of the group. I mean public speaking is dangerous. Look at Jesus, Joan of Arc, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Plato or Socrates I guess it was, the list goes on. People who got noticed by the group and they get offed, right. It’s dangerous but it’s the number one thing that people will resonate with. It is the most powerful, in my opinion, communication tool that we have as human beings; public speaking.
16:03 JL: You know I’m a big fan of the stoics and some of the modern guys who have interpreted the stoics or brought out relevance in the stories. Ryan Holiday’s got a great book. The Obstacle is the Way. You hear about just these different folks who had things against them. There was this guy, you know kid. Wealthy parents were passed away. The people in charge of his will basically were stealing the money.
JOHN BATES: Yeah.
16:30 JL: And so what does he do? He works incredibly hard to become a great orator. And basically as an adult win the lawsuits to get his inheritance back. Which they had mostly squandered. And he didn’t really get that much. But what he gained is this really unparalleled opportunity to influence people. And his whole life got better even though he didn’t get the money back from his inheritance. His whole life got so much better because he had taken the time to master that skill. And he used to do things like put rocks in his cheeks and give speeches as he walks up hills so he would be winded. You hear these things about paying the price to do what most people don’t pay the price to do, so that you can communicate that way. And what a benefit it was for the rest of his life even though it didn’t come easy to him. And I imagice you encounter so many people who it doesn’t come easy to. All these different folks you coach. And even like you said, yourself.
Where is Your Focus? Yourself? The Audience?
JOHN BATES: Yeah. No I mean it is tough. It’s .. If it was easy everybody would be doing it right? But you know, the fundamental thing for me Jess, that makes it… One of the big differentiators for people when you go see a talk between the really good speakers and the not so good speakers, and the same thing is also a big differentiator between the people who are less paralysed by public speaking rather than more paralyzed. I mean everybody is scared if they are going to be honest about it. One of the biggest differentiators is who do you have your attention on? And you know, there’s a binary equation in public speaking. You can either get up on stage and have your attention on yourself. Or you can have your attention on the audience. But you cannot do both. And I always ask people, you know I’ve given you a clue to the answer here Jess. But I always ask who are you nervous about? Is it about the audience or is it about you? And it’s all about you. Being nervous is you worrying about what they think of you. And if that’s where you stop then that will always make it much much much harder to be comfortable and relaxed and really be a great speaker. The advice that I got a long time ago from Snoop Doggy Dog back when he was the D.O.G.G. Dogg, no kidding. Don’t be nervous. Be at their service.
19:16 JL: [laugh]
JOHN BATES: And that’s some brilliant advice right there, huh.
19:19 JL: Yeah. You think about how many things, when it comes to leadership and helping their people become better leaders at the companies we run, just in general like, you know, how that advice doesn’t just apply in speaking. In fact…
JOHN BATES: Absolutely.
Advice in His Darkest Hour
19:40 JL: I know we are about up with time for this part of the episode but maybe in the second half of the interview we can focus on that. To close out here maybe let’s do this. One of my favorite questions is asking people; what’s a piece of advice you would have liked to give a younger version of yourself?
JOHN BATES: Oh that’s easy. I will tell you one of the greatest pieces of advice that I wished I would have given myself as a younger person. I wish I could have stepped in right after I lost that company where we raised eighty million dollars bigwords.com I wish I could go back and tell myself a quote from a guy name Louis L’Amour who is a great western novel writer. And the quote says ‘There will come a time when you think everything is finished. That is the beginning.’
20:39 JL: That’s great advice.
JOHN BATES: Yeah. I wish I would have treated it like that. I treated it like it was the end and I was just, you know, I was a total loser and not worth anything, and should be embarrassed. If I would have just said okay, that was my eighty million dollar MBA what’s next, then I think things would have… I would have bounced back a lot faster, let’s say that.
21:04 JL: Sure that’s great. Well listen everybody. Please tune back in to part 2 of our interview with John. We’re going to keep getting his wisdom.