Rich Zeoli is an author, talk show host, and communications expert. Rich is the author of The Seven Principles of Public Speaking: Proven Methods From a PR Professional, and a weekday host on CBS Radio Talk Radio 1210 WPHT in Philadelphia.
Rich Zeoli has worked with clients ranging from Fortune 100 companies and national television personalities to candidates for national political office and bestselling authors. He has personally trained individuals for appearances on major programs including Good Morning America, CNN American Morning, Larry King Live, CBS Evening News, Hannity, NPR, and many others. All of his training is personal and customized to the individual needs of the client.
Rich is often called upon to speak on topics including effective communication and marketing. He has appeared nationally on ABC Nightline, MSNBC, CNN, C-SPAN, and National Public Radio. In addition, he has given print interviews to national publications including the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Congressional Quarterly. He has contributed articles on effective communication to major sites and publications sites including Forbes and The American Management Association.
Rich is a Visiting Associate at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
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Start of Interview with Richard Zeoli
Jason Hartman: It’s my pleasure to welcome Richard Zeoli to the show. He is the founder of RZC Impact, and he is the president of that organization as well. He is the author of The Seven Principles of Public Speaking: Proven Methods from a PR professional. And he is a weekday host on CBS Talk Radio. It’s a pleasure to have him with us today. Richard, welcome. How are you?
Richard Zeoli: Jason, I’m doing very well. Thanks so much for the invitation to be on your program.
Jason Hartman: It’s good to have you on the show. Let’s talk about public speaking first, but there’s no shortage of training on public speaking. I’m sure you will agree. Lots of people have don’t put your hands in your pocket, and all of the kind of basics out there.
Richard Zeoli: The basics, yeah.
Jason Hartman: And I hope we’re going to do a little more than that today. But I also definitely want to cover the area of media training. Because a lot of authors, speakers, presenters, info marketers, they’re out there doing media interviews. And some people really have zero training on that, and I think it’s very important. So let’s talk about the book first and public speaking skills.
Richard Zeoli: Yeah absolutely. You mentioned sort of jokingly about putting your hands in your pocket, and some of the basics. For years, I was being hired by different political campaigns mostly in the Jersey, Philadelphia area market and then D.C. as well to help politicians who were running for office. And then I started working with politicians who actually were elected to office, and it branched out into working with authors, and business executives, and entrepreneurs. And then just small business people too who’d also want to maximize the ability of giving a good presentation. And through the course of the work I was getting frustrated because people would ask me to recommend them a good public speaking book, and every public speaking book I encountered was really focused on basic stuff but it never got to the essence of what I think is a communications philosophy. And that’s what I really tried to create here.
We published the book back in 2008 and it’s still selling today, and it’s still doing very well. I’ve got another edition coming out soon, and basically it’s because what I’ve done is create a program that’s rooted in something deeper than just the sort of gimmicks that most people are told when they’re trying to learn public speaking.
Jason Hartman: Right. I think that’s a great idea Rich. Because when you have the right philosophy, I guess we could liken philosophy to the context from which one is presenting. So when you have the right philosophy, everything stems out of that. So it’s a great place to start. So what is your philosophy of public speaking?
Richard Zeoli: Basically the main philosophy Jason, is stop trying to act like a great public speaker. Don’t try to sound like a public speaker. So many people when they’re thinking of giving a presentation they think they need to be someone that they’re not. And they act like they’re trying to speak to the masses in front of an auditorium. And many times they make mistakes by watching professional speakers who speak to large groups, and they go into it with the mindset of okay, I’m speaking to a large group now and I’ve got to put on my large group voice. And the essence of public speaking is, in my opinion, no different than if you’re having a one on one conversation with somebody and that is to have a conversation.
So I try to give people the advice of have a conversation with the audience. Speak to each person individually. You don’t speak to people in groups. Although they’re in a group, we listen as individuals. Every single person in a chair, no matter how big the size of the audience, whether it’s five people or five thousand. Each individual person hears as an individual, not as a member of a group. And so the more that you can think of public speaking as less as public speaking and more on having a conversation with each individual person, the easier it becomes. Because we have conversations every day. And also the more effective you’ll be and you’ll be a lot more comfortable too, I should say. It really helps conquer nervousness as well.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, because when someone is trying to be something that they’re not, they’re nervous that they’re going to be discovered, right?
Richard Zeoli: Exactly right, yeah. So many times they’re not being their authentic self.
Jason Hartman: Being authentic is easy. There’s nothing to be nervous about when you’re just yourself. But how does that translate into some specifics? I don’t want to take anything away from your philosophy because I know we’re going to drill down on it, but it sort of sounds kind of basic. Be yourself, have a conversation. Are there some specific tactics that you can impart to speaking students?
Richard Zeoli: Yeah, absolutely. Well the first one is preparation. Preparation is so critical to giving a good presentation. And I can’t emphasize enough how important that is. Before you even begin speaking, to know what you want to say, to know what your message is and to have everything worked out. A lot of times anxiety comes from our mind is thinking what to say, because we don’t know the content well enough, we don’t know the information. And so more than anything I get asked is how to I overcome public speaking anxiety? And the answer is always be prepared.
And to that end, Jason, practice. Practice, practice, practice. Look at it this way, think of professional athletes. These are guys that work out every day doing their craft, whether they’re baseball players getting ready for spring training, they’re paid millions of dollars for what they do a year. And they practice pretty much every single day.
Now for many of us, we make our living speaking in one fashion or another. Whether it’s a presentation in front of a group, it’s a sales pitch, it’s leading people at work. How often, I would ask people, do you practice your communications? And for the most part everybody says never. They just assume because they speak, that’s the way it is. Well if world class athletes can practice their skill that they’re paid millions of dollars to do every day, why can’t you practice a little bit a couple times a week? And so to that end, I always tell people, if you’ve got to give a speech, if you’ve got a presentation coming up, if you’ve got a sales pitch coming up, practice it until it’s inside and out. And that doesn’t mean I want you to be a robot – I just want you to be prepared because you’re going to be a lot better at the presentation if you are.
Jason Hartman: Okay, so any advice on how to practice? Practice techniques? A lot of people say cue cards, that’s rather old fashioned, or not cue cards but 3 by 5 cards. I guess those are cue cards in a way.
Richard Zeoli: Oh yeah. They’re very effective and the nice thing now is that everybody has an iPhone or a tablet that has a camera on it, and the joke about doing selfies, don’t do a selfie but you could record yourself giving a presentation to an empty room. You could record yourself giving a speech and the listen back to it. You could take a video on your iPhone of yourself in front of the room and see what you look like on camera and how you’re using your arms and eye contact and all those other things.
In the old days I used to have to bring a camera everywhere I went to help people train. Nowadays I just say, flip on your iPhone, record yourself, take a look at the video, watch it back, listen to how you sound, listen to the message, figuring out are you hitting people? And the way to hit people, really, is through something we call empathy. Are you empathizing with your audience? Are you speaking to them or are you empathizing with them? Understanding what they’re looking for, what their needs are, and then going from it from that frame of mind. It’s a very powerful tool.
Jason Hartman: I would be remiss if we didn’t talk about some specific speakers that are well known in our culture. And the one that comes to mind is Mister Obama. And before he was first elected, I actually used to think he was a great speaker. Of course, I thought Ronald Reagan was a great speaker too. I haven’t thought any other presidents are except those too. But then after he was elected, I’d become really unimpressed with Obama’s speaking skills. Not from a political angle here, and I’m certainly unimpressed with that, but that’s another subject. We won’t go there for this. But talk to us about his speaking ability. He’s great at reading a teleprompter, but as an actual speaker I don’t think he’s very good. Do you?
Richard Zeoli: No, he’s not. He’s not good on his feet. And that’s the problem. I think a big part of that comes from the fact that he doesn’t really empathize well with people. He’s not an empathetic person in that sense. But he’s got a teleprompter – he’s very good at it. But most people are. Reading a teleprompter is a skill that I’ve trained people to do, believe it or not. Once you get it it’s like playing tennis or golf. You just get it. You know how to do it. It’s not particularly complicated.
But I’ll give you a democratic politician that was excellent at speaking. And that’s Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton, unlike Obama, could empathize with everybody. And he was very, very good at connecting with people one on one. It’s one of the reasons why Clinton was such a successful communicator, much like Reagan who also had the ability to empathize. When you heard these guys speak, you felt like they were talking directly to you as an individual and that’s a very powerful gift. With Obama, he’s always speaking to the large crowd – he’s always doing the large crowd thing. And it comes across looking like he doesn’t know how to relate to the average person.
Jason Hartman: It’s interesting because in the beginning that’s what everybody thought of, he’s the hope and change guy. He’s the guy that’s going to help the little guy. And certainly what you’re saying, Bill Clinton is the I feel your pain guy. So empathy I would totally agree with you there. But how did it change for Obama? What happened? Did his speaking style change that dramatically?
Richard Zeoli: Well a lot has changed for Obama. This is a guy that used to be against NSA spying on American citizens – he used to be against the debt ceiling going up. A lot has changed for Obama, and that may be part of it too. Which is that he may not believe a lot of the stuff he says. And there’s an important lesson to be learned there. You have to really believe what you’re saying because people can tell if you are insincere. And I think a lot of the problem the president has is he comes across very insincere and in authentic. Believe me, there’s always people that are going to say that I’m trying to be saying this from a political perspective because of where I stand on the political spectrum. That’s not the case.
Jason Hartman: But our listeners don’t necessarily know that, by the way.
Richard Zeoli: I just praise Bill Clinton for being a successful communicator. Obama is someone who when he speaks Jason, I don’t get a sense he really believes necessarily what he says. And for someone listening to your show, I would say to them the lesson here is you’ve got to believe what you say. You have to mean what you say, and if you don’t, if you’re just saying things for the sake of saying them, people will see through it and then at that point you’re done. You’re going to lose what I call the credibility connection with your audience, and it is so vital to establish that connection.
Jason Hartman: And that’s really what you were saying. The first point was the authenticity, have a conversation, and stop thinking like you’re a big public speaker. So very good points. Okay what else?
Richard Zeoli: I call the book The Seven Principles of Public Speaking for the reason that I go through each one as sort of an easy way to understand. One of the things I talk about in the book is the idea of visualization. I don’t know if you ever use visualization in your life, but athletes do all the time. Athletes use visualization to help them become better athletes. And a lot more people in business are recognizing the power of visualization to succeed.
So what I always tell speakers is, if you have to give a speech for example, say you’re speaking at a hotel coming up and you can go to the ballroom ahead of time and see the room, and then picture the room, and then in your mind, close your eyes and visualize yourself in front of that group giving a presentation. Picture yourself giving a talk to people. Picture yourself communicating, picture yourself looking people in the eyes. You will convince your mind, and this is very good to get yourself trained, your mind trained and prepared for that situation. So when it happens and you walk into the room, your mind goes, oh yeah I get this. I know this. I’m okay with it, I’m good with it. It really cuts down the nervousness.
But even if you’re not someone who necessarily deals with anxiety as a speaker, every time you give yourself a competitive edge over anybody else, you win in life. So if you know that you’ve got to give a presentation somewhere, you can go ahead of time and see the room and be a part of it…
Jason Hartman: Especially if you can stand up on the stage.
Richard Zeoli: Exactly. Exactly right.
Jason Hartman: Because one thing, I’ve been surprised and I think it’s reduced my speaking quality at events where they’re not events that I’m putting on, but I’m speaking at somebody else’s event. And I’ll get up on the stage and the sound reflects from the back of the room and it comes back at me. It sounds kind of weird – you have to get used to that. The lighting can really freak you out as a speaker. The more of that you can see in advance, and visualize success and just making it a great speech with a standing ovation, the better off you’re going to be. So I couldn’t agree more. That’s a great tip. Okay so a couple other principles. And maybe we can’t cover all seven, but they’re certainly in the book which is available on Amazon with five star reviews I should mention. So great job there. Do you want to mention one or two other principles before we talk about media training?
Richard Zeoli: I will just say this. The power of storytelling is the most important principle of all, and you talk about speakers a lot. I talk in the book about Steve Jobs, the late Steve Jobs, who was one of the best communicators I think of recent times. And he was a great storyteller and this is another thing where I think Obama really fails as a communicator. He’s not very good at storytelling. The people that are, the people that can tell a story and bring their listeners along on a journey, they’re the ones that really succeed the most. And so think like a storyteller. And really, the best way to think like a storyteller is if you’re an adult and you have kids, go back and read some of the children’s books you used to read to your kids at night or when you’re reading to your kids at night, pay attention.
Every movie we watch, TV show, the good ones we like have good stories. There’s a beginning, a middle and an end. And if you can tell a story to your audience, relate to them through the power of storytelling, you will connect with them better than any other speaker than you can imagine. Because that fundamentally is how we’re taught. It’s how we have evolved as communicators, through hearing stories told to us throughout our entire life.
Jason Hartman: Great tip. And I’ve got to tell you, I think many people tell me that I’m a great public speaker, but I think I’m very weak on the storytelling. And I know that is a critical, critical component. Do you have any advice, and of course I’m asking with my own personal agenda, for how to be a better storyteller? Should you study, and I’ve done it, Joseph Campbell’s work and the Hero’s Journey? There’s a formula for stories the way our mind wants to hear them, right? Any tips you can give there would be personally appreciated.
Richard Zeoli: Absolutely. Think about it, as you with your successful radio show know Jason, this is theater of the mind. And public speaking is no different. It’s theater of the mind. So when you’re talking to people and you’re telling them something, they want to hear certain principles. Anticipation is a big one, tension’s a little bit. If you stand in front of an audience and you say, I succeeded at this, that means nothing to people. But if you tell them how you succeeded and you throw in some details about some struggles and adversities, you throw in a little tension about a particularly troublesome day, or a very tough decision you had to make, and you can make that tension come alive for them – visualization in terms of their minds.
Think in terms of your audience. Am I painting a picture for them that they’ll be able to process and see? Am I giving them enough detail? And ultimately, am I doing this succinctly, because the one thing that will kill a story more than anything is a long story, a story that’s too long. As long as it takes to tell the story is as long as the story should take.
Jason Hartman: Yeah, get to the point!
Richard Zeoli: Exactly right. The example I’ll give you is, we do have the Getty’s Burg Address as one of the most famous speeches of all time. That speech was a little bit over a minute and a half. The governor of Maryland that also spoke that day spoke for over an hour and a half and nobody even remembers his name. so too often speakers think they need to talk for a long time to connect with an audience and that’s not true. You can speak very powerfully in a very short period of time.
Jason Hartman: What is the old saying, and I’m going to mess this up, but it’s Be prepared, be present, and then be seated.
Richard Zeoli: Be seated. Yeah, pretty much. That’s it. Especially if you’re the speaker before lunch is served.
Jason Hartman: Right. Everybody’s waiting to get out of there. Great tips. Do you want to mention one more principle before we transition here?
Richard Zeoli: Well look, I’ll just mention on the storytelling part of it. The story should always back up your message, and the message is key. What is the message of the speech? Just like good political leaders stay on message when they’re giving a talk, a campaign speech. You as a speaker have to stay on message too. And you’ve got to figure out what your message is. And then every story you tell should be to back up your message. Really, everything in your speech should be to help boost the message. If it doesn’t help support your message, take it out. For example, a lot of times people ask me, should I try to put a joke in? Well first of all, I don’t know if you’re funny, so I can’t give you the answer to that. And B, if you tell a joke and it bombs, you’ve got this big matzo ball hanging out there, so a funny story’s okay, but more than anything you don’t connect with audiences necessarily through humor. There’s been a lot of comedians who’ve told jokes that don’t necessarily connect with audiences. You connect with audiences by having a strong message that they can relate to. So what I would rather you spend your time doing, is figuring out does my speech relate to my audience? Am I empathizing with my audience? That is more than anything. And once you figure out the message, stay on your message, keep to your message and don’t get distracted. You’re there to give a speech by staying on message.
Jason Hartman: Excellent points. Well as a big part of media training is trying to answer the questions and the talking points that we want to address in a media interview, so this is maybe a perfect Segway to talking about media training. Because it’s moving some of that interview to discuss the talking points that we want to discuss rather than the interviewers agenda necessarily. Would you say that’s fair?
Richard Zeoli: Yeah I think that’s exactly right Jason. You have to think about it in this respect, most journalists have gone to school for this. They’re professionals, they went to journalism school for the most part. And they’ve cut their teeth doing TV, and radio and press their entire career. Now you sit down in front of them, you’re a business person, a political candidate, you’re an amateur. So what I always tell people is why would you go into that situation unprepared? And for many people they think, well I have nothing that could hurt me. Well, it’s not just about not being hurt, it’s also about can you maximize the opportunity?
For example, I had a young woman that was basically asked to come on CNN to talk about, she was one of the heroes, the CNN heroes that was named for great contributions to helping people in life. And she was going on Larry king, and I thought well this is a great opportunity for you to hit the ball out of the park and to really nail it. To really kind of maximize the opportunity, but you’ve got to be ready for it because Larry King certainly is ready for it. So we worked together on the concept of seizing that 90 seconds to make it count, but telling your story, knowing your message, knowing what it is you want to say, knowing how to say it properly, and then practicing. Just like you wouldn’t go into any situation in business unprepared, I would always encourage you use that media training opportunity as a gift really, to promote your business, your career, whatever it is, and then seize on it.
Jason Hartman: How do you handle tough questions? Questions maybe, if it’s a controversial subject and maybe you don’t want to go there. This applies especially with your background in politics of course, because I remember one media training program I was studying many years ago. It said the interviewer asks you a question, and then you answered your own question, which sounds like what politicians pretty much do.
Richard Zeoli: Well, that’s exactly right. You have to remember something. The press are not your friend, the media is there not to be your friend, they’re professionals. They have a job to do. And you have to respect that job and you should do it accordingly. When you know your message, your job during that interview is to stay on message and it’s not to be taken off message. So if they ask you something that’s unrelated to what you’re there to talk about, you’ve got to find a way to bring it back to what it is you’re there to talk about. You could be a baby about it and say, well that’s not why you brought me on your show. Okay, you could do that, but you’re never going to be asked back, or you could find a way to say, well that’s an interesting question, in my experience as a boom, and then take it back to where you were. But again, Jason, it’s like anything else. It requires practice, it requires training, and it requires you being committed to the fact that you have a message to share and you’re going to stay on that message no matter what comes your way.
Jason Hartman: Very good, very good. Any things in terms of how many talking points one can have, well of course it depends how long the interview is. I just sort of think we can only sort of hold three ideas generally. It’ll either be really long, in sort of three fifteen minute segments, or if the interview is three minutes, then it’s three one minute points. But I may be totally wrong about that.
Richard Zeoli: No I don’t think you’re totally wrong about that. I think you’re exactly right. Three is a great number. We hear in threes, we talk in threes, and baseball is three outs and you’re done. It’s a good way to think about things and so going back to the story thing for example, have three stories to tell in your life, about your business, about your successes. Have three stories in your pocket that you can bring out at any time, at any moment that you can share with somebody. Have three stories of adversity that you can share at any moment. Have three stories of what you’d like to accomplish. Because, yeah, goals can also be told in the form of a story as well.
If you have those things with you at all times, and then you have your message boiled down to three fundamental points: what are the three main points of my message that I want to get across, and you have those with you in your mind and you’ve trained, you’ve practiced, you’ve prepared, you know the messages inside and out, you won’t have a moment where you’re standing up there and saying the first two and you can’t remember the third and you have an oops moment like Rick Perry did one time. But three is a good way to do it.
Then again, don’t, if it’s five, if it has to be five, fine. If it only has to be two, that’s okay too. Every person is going to be different in that sense. The key is, is what you’re saying vital to your message? Does it back up your message in some way? Does it support your message? Is it important enough to communicate? Because if it isn’t, why are you saying it would be my point?
Jason Hartman: Very good point. Maybe one final area I’d like to ask you about Rich, and that is the concept of likability, and this is not an easy one, but do you have any tips on that? Because even if someone isn’t a great speaker, even if someone doesn’t do a great interview, and we’re talking about the media training side, but just people like people that are like them, likability wins the day, humor certainly helps, but I don’t know. It seems like there are certain people that are really unnatural when it comes to humor and the rest of us just aren’t. I’m one of those. But any tips on likability?
Richard Zeoli: Yeah people like people who are likable. And likability means that you like other people. I’m sure Jason, you’ve probably read Dale Carnegie and his work.
Jason Hartman: Oh sure. Took his course.
Richard Zeoli: How to win friends and influence people. The concept of basically having a genuine interest in other people is something you can’t fake. You either have it or you don’t, but the nice thing is we can all learn to appreciate our fellow human beings more. We can all learn to appreciate our colleagues more. And you become a likable person by showing an interest in other people, a genuine interest in other people, not a phony one, a genuine interest. And if you don’t want to have an interest in other people, because you don’t think that person can help you ever in life, I’m sure you can find stories, and I can share my own, of people who at one point were someone that answered to me that are now in positions to help me in life.
So there’s no shortage of stories like that that are out there. There’s no excuse for you not taking the time to get to know a person that works with you, to get to know a person… if you go from the mindset of, I don’t need this person, what can they do for me? You’re going to find yourself hitting a lot of roadblocks in life.
Jason Hartman: I couldn’t agree more. And it reminds me when I originally read as a teenager, how to win friends and influence people, of the story about the couple that was leaving someone’s home for dinner and they heard the other couple inside the house say, what an interesting couple. How engaging they were, how interesting they were, and they realized they didn’t say anything, they just asked a lot of questions. Don’t talk about yourself, talk about the other person. But the question is, how do you do that Rich, that’s great interpersonal communication advice, no question about it. I completely agree. But how do you do it from the platform around a media interview when it’s a one to many type of communication?
Richard Zeoli: Again, if you go from the concept of speaking directly to one person. For example, if you’re on Fox News tonight, don’t think about it that you’re communicating via the camera to millions of people. Think about it that through that camera is one person sitting there watching television, and you’re talking directly to that one person.
It’s the same thing with radio. People don’t listen in large groups, they don’t watch television in large groups. And even when we’re sitting in a large group together, listening is a very intimate experience. Every single person listens individually. Listening is an intimate experience. And so when you can talk to someone intimately one on one, and you don’t think about the masses, but you think about that one person sitting in front of the TV, or that one person with the radio on, or that one person who’s sitting in the chair in that audience and you talk directly to that person. That’s the key.
Now, I can’t just simply tell you, do this Jason and that’s how you achieve it. Because it’s not as simple as that. It’s a mindset. And it’s changing the mindset from thinking in terms of speaking to the masses to that mindset of, as I talk about in The Seven Principles of Public Speaking, the very basic core principle which is speak one on one and have a conversation. It’s tricky, but when you get it, when you become good at it, not only do you become a more relaxed speaker, you become a speaker that people really like listening to. And that makes your job as a speaker easier, it also makes you a more sought after speaker. And when I speak to groups and people come up to me at the end and say, I want to thank you for speaking, I felt like you were speaking directly to me. It felt like you understood… that’s the best compliment I could ever get in life.
Jason Hartman: Fantastic. Great advice. Well Rich, give out your website if you would and of course the book is available on Amazon. Excellent five star reviews on there, but give out your website.
Richard Zeoli: Sure. My website is rzcimpact.com. The book is The Seven Principles of Public Speaking, and there’s also an audio edition of The Seven Principles of Public Speaking which I basically go through the training course and I speak, so if you don’t like to read, you can always do it that way. Which is my preferred approach by the way, I should add.
Jason Hartman: Yeah I’m a big fan of audio books too. Because there’s so much more information you’re receiving. Earl Nightingale told me so many years ago that you get the speaker’s emotion and you just pick up on a lot more, and of course it’s portable. You can be walking to dog or in the car, so it makes your car a rolling university. That’s fantastic advice. Well, Richard Zeoli thank you so much for joining us today, and thank you so much for sharing some fantastic tips on public speaking, interpersonal communications, and media training – all very important. Appreciate having you on the show.
Richard Zeoli: It was my pleasure Jason. Thanks so much.
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