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In Conversation with Dex Hunter-Torricke 1024 1024 Lisa

In Conversation with Dex Hunter-Torricke

In Conversation with Dex Hunter-Torricke

LW: Today’s guest is Dex Hunter-Torricke, he is the head of communications for the oversight board, the independent body established in 2020 to make binding decisions on Facebook and Instagram’s most challenging content issues. During his career Dex has served in a string of high-profile roles across the tech and policy worlds, including as head of communications for SpaceX, head of executive Communications for Facebook including four years as a speechwriter for Mark Zuckerberg and as Google’s first executive speechwriter where he supported Eric Schmidt, and Larry Page Dex is a New York Times bestselling Ghostwriter and frequent public speaker on technology issues. Welcome.

DEX: Hi Lisa, good to be here.

LW: My first question here, can you run us through your process of developing content for someone else?

Dex: Sure. And I like that, we started with that because I find whenever speech writers, get together, what’s your process? is sort of the code for saying hello, every speech writer…you know, recognizes just how important the process is and, you know, how integral that is to, you know, be able to do your job. Well, you know, it’s the old cliche. I don’t think there is one set process. There are things that I like to do and I think, you know, lend themselves to a good process. And I think, you know, the most important one is starting by listening deeply. And, you know, listening not just to the person you’re writing for but also, you know, being attuned, to the organization and the context in which that speech is going to be delivered.
But, you know, there’s not one right way to go about doing this. And, every speaker, every organization, every industry has very, very different processes and, speechwriters have to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. I do think that the one universal truth really is, you know, if you can listen deeply and, start by listening more than talking, gathering all the pieces of string you need to weave the speech together that often leads to a better outcome and it’s something that isn’t always done. Well, I find in a communications context, you know, a lot of speech writers, find themselves in the role somewhat accidentally, you know, they tend to come up through public relations or they come up through, government service, and they might do speech writing as 10% of their job which or 15% of their job and in the other parts of their job in the other 80% of the job, they might often find. They need to talk a lot and actually it’s knowing when to shut up. That’s often very, very important to being able to give a good speech.

LW: So, it sounds like what you’re saying is you’re in the room, you must have been listening, the listening part to the company, the organization and what not, and you’re really listening to what from the speaker? listening to what they want to say? what is their objective? What is the goal of this particular speech? What are the things you’re listening for?

Dex: Yeah, I mean you hit the nail on the head.

If you want to write for a thought leader and you want to meet them before the debate you have to really being able to understand the intellectual world view of the person you’re writing for. But what are the things that really drive the person that you’re writing for of? How do they see the world? You know, how do they see the issues that you’re going to be presenting your speech? You know, incredibly deeply? That’s the core…I’m making a good speech, the actual combination of words. That’s the easy part. That’s the piece that, you know, you can develop, I think much faster than actually coming up with great ideas, which then inform the content.

So, when I’m listening, I’m trying to get a sense of who’s this person and trying to build a relationship with that person. So that when they want to talk I at least have a starting point for understanding how they might see that.

LW: And then for those people that you have been working with or had worked with for years? I assume that there’s a beginning and then at a certain point you get into maybe a groove with them because you do get to know somebody.

Dex: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, that’s the example, I would give is Eric Schmidt, you know, Eric was the first person I wrote for when I came to Silicon Valley, you know, the beginning of 2011 and you know, I had previously been at the United Nations. I was writing for folks who were heads of state and heads of government your ambassadors, UN officials and the style of speaking, you know, in the Diplomatic World utterly unlike you know the tech industry, of course. One set of folks here, talks in very stilted language, you know, which is literally ripped from a diplomatic code. And, you know, the other is trying to come up with, thoughts that move the world and things that, you know, are more proactive, agendas about society. And with Eric, I wrote my first speech, much more informed by where I have come from here from my, um, experience. And he took one look at this and, you know, he was like, what the hell is this? And yeah, it was a complete disaster. I got incredibly embarrassed; I was very nervous. I was like, “oh my God, he hates my writing” and it took me two or three speeches before I got into the groove.

LW: That’s relatable to so many different Industries though, right? When we come into a space where we might be a little intimidated by the person. I’m not saying that you articulated that you were intimidated but you said you were nervous. When the person is a very well-established person or just somebody you don’t yet have rapport with it can make you nervous.

But everything is a journey. I mean, with Eric Schmidt, maybe you went home that day. After you felt. Oh God. He said this is terrible and you looked up his video of the first time he has a video of him public speaking. You thought? Well, at least it wasn’t that terrible.

I want to recap just a little bit for those people out there who might be in the same situation. You are listening, well, actively listening to the person and to the org, and then nailing the thoughts and nailing what their worldview is, or at least really understanding it. And then you’re going to go into writing…. I know I’m making the simplistic but it’s a 30-minute show, so you know.

Dex: Another point I make for anybody who’s struggling with this, the actual mechanics of writing a speech, they’re relatively fast, I mean, if you wanted to just write a 20-minute talk, now it’s 3,000 words, you know, speaking for about 150 words a minute, which the average, you know, you could easily nail that, you know, in less than an hour, but it will be complete rubbish. Unless you’ve actually taken the time to build that intellectual foundation to come up with great ideas and coming up with those ideas that takes time.

So before you rush to get a draft out on paper. You know, you want to really spend as much of the time as you can on those ideas. You know, a lot of folks, you know, when they’re writing for executives because they do get nervous and there are hierarchies involved. And so on, they think I’ve got two weeks to do this speech, I should get them a first draft. You know, the next couple of days to show that I’m really on the ball and that always struck me as not a good way to work. You know, you’ve got two weeks. You know take as much time as you can out of that process to you know, do something quality. If you take three or four days or you take a week you might have something that’s way better. And you’re going to be in a much stronger starting point before you start having to iterate with the speaker.

LW: I just want to acknowledge that might be the easy part for somebody else. It might not and so we might not be on the same page here, we might, but I want to say that when I have to write a talk for myself, for instance, I see the blank page and nothing happens.

Now if you give me, if you give me Hamlet, I can cut Hamlet down to 35 minutes and make it a great production. If you give me a speech…which many people do who hire me, I can cut and reshape it and all that. That’s not a problem. But when I’m going to write for myself, suddenly my skills completely out of the window. I don’t know how I don’t have a process that works for me and so I want to speak a little bit about that, you know, maybe and again I’m asking not you can answer in a general way like well for most people, this is how they seem to do it but I also want to know for you when you’re writing for yourself. What is unique about it?

Dex: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think people often find it more difficult to write for themselves. I definitely don’t think it’s a question of words. I do think it’s ideas. Is, you know, views of the world that’s tough because you’re having to present things that are deeply personal to you. It’s always much easier to present other people’s ideas because those are necessarily as personal as at your own.

Full interview:


Dr. Susannah Baldwin: “Women, Language & Power” 984 1024 Lisa

Dr. Susannah Baldwin: “Women, Language & Power”

Dr. Susannah Baldwin: “Women, Language & Power”

In Conversation with Dr. Baldwin from LWS Podcast Episode 6

LW: I want to start a little bit with your background tell us how you ended up specializing in language and empowerment.

Dr. Baldwin: Well, it’s sort of found its way to me. But this is this is how it happened. I’m a clinical psychologist by training. I spent 10 years working in a consulting firm focus on leadership development. I realized communication was a really underappreciated skill for leaders. So I went out and spent a chunk of years doing executive speech coaching. And when I opened my coaching practice about 11 years ago, my title became really important. I’m a leadership and Communications coach and that title opened the floodgates for women coming into my practice. I got woman after woman after woman all coming with similar issues and they all centered around communication and those issues were important enough to be holding women back from advancing into leadership levels. And so let me give you a flavor for what those issues sounded like…”she doesn’t speak up enough. She’s not assertive enough. She doesn’t come across with authority. She’s not visible enough across the organization. She’s not comfortable with conflict. She just basically doesn’t have an executive presence in whereas she could be influential and effective at a leadership level.” So having seen this again and again and again in client after client, I realized this was not some fatal flaw of women or any one woman. It really had a lot to do with how we are conditioned as women and particularly the way women speak that made me develop go on to develop my workshop on “women language and power.”

LW: What I see is that it does sometimes occur a little bit more with people from different cultures or different ethnic backgrounds, and I’m wondering in your research and in your time as a coach. What part do you think that plays in the way women either hold themselves back in meetings or become nervous giving presentations or just become submissive around men in the workplace?

Dr Baldwin: Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s submissive around men. I might say submissive in general or conforming to what the biases are around their particular ethnicity and I would say that women of color in particular test what we’re talking about suffer from having double bias one the biases people have about women and how they should act and speak and then they have a whole other level of bias against about how a black woman should speak or an Asian woman.

LW: What are some good concrete examples of that just so we can get on the same page. Where women will hold themselves back…maybe want to say something in an assertive way, but it’s coming across in a very passive way or in a very gentle way when they’re very entitled to just give their opinion or to say what they need to say.

Dr. Baldwin: Yeah, that’s what I call “bubble wrapping.” You know, where we take the sharp edges off our assertions the impulse to make an assertion and maybe one that’s really strong and assertive maybe even aggressive and we sort of wrap it to soften it. For example, I deserve a promotion that might be the direct assertion but women will show up by saying when do you think it might be possible for me to get a promotion? Those are two different types of assert statements one lines up with the goal. I think I deserve a promotion. The other is a veiled.

LW: What’s your typical program look like for one-on-one?

Dr. Baldwin: Typically I work in three to six months chunks because if you’re really serious about changing your behavior, it takes time because it takes a lot not only practice to learn what you’re doing, but do it enough to where it becomes comfortable and a habit a new habit 3 to 6 months.


In Conversation with Dr. Deborah Tannen 1024 630 Lisa

In Conversation with Dr. Deborah Tannen

In Conversation with Dr. Deborah Tannen
PART 1 of my Interview with Dr. Deborah Tannen, America’s Most Respected Linguist

LW: So we’re going to cover a couple of areas including your new book. But first I’d like to introduce my listeners to your research in conversational analysis. So let’s start there. If you don’t mind, can you tell us what conversational analysis is?


Dr. Tannen: Yes, it’s a subfield of linguistics, which is the scientific study of language and those of us who study conversation record conversation. Transcribe it, break it down into its all its component parts so words but also rhythms of speech the intonation patterns the pausing length of pause where those pauses come directness in directness. All these many, many, many different ways that you can say what you mean and we study that and for people in my sub-discipline the question then is how is that affecting both the conversation but also the relationships that people are creating.

LW: I saw some of your lectures where you mention Conversational Style and what influences conversational style. Can you speak to that just for a minute? I think one of the things you talk about is the big five.

Dr. Tannen: Yes, absolutely. So this is my own take on it. I talked about conversational style as all the different ways that we say what we mean. So there are some specifics about the patterns. The fundamental idea is this when we talk to people we assume that they must mean what we would mean if we said the same thing in the same way in the same context if they have a similar conversation. Then chances are they will understand what we meant as we meant it and we will probably get the right impression of them. They will get the right impression of us. But if people have a different conversational style than the impression they get and what they think we meant and what they think we’re doing could be very different so influences the big five would be gender that maybe the one of the biggest ones in it’s one that I’ve read about quite a lot, but also ethnic background regional background class and age. So one of the major studies that I did was comparing speakers from New York of Jewish background. So you got both ethnicity and region with speakers from California of not Jewish, but various mixed backgrounds, and then also someone from London.

LW: You said we can go deeper into conversational analysis. Was there something that you wanted specifically to touch upon?


Dr. Tannen: Well, I would love to give some specific examples. So one of my favorites because this was one of the things I found in my original study is the simple difference when you speak to someone you have to decide when their turn is done and it’s your turn to begin and we have a number of ways that we judge that whether we think they’ve made their point. That would be one their intonation pattern and if it goes down that would be another but we also listen for a pause if they stopped long enough for us to think. Okay, they’re done. There are very slight we’re talking maybe fractions of a second or maybe numbers of seconds difference in in how long a pause people tend to think is normal between churns. And again, it could vary by Place New York versus California versus the Midwest versus New England and of course different countries also will affect this. So anytime true people speak that have a slightly different sense of how long a pause is normal between turns the one who is expecting the shorter pause will think that the other one has nothing more to say or is turning over the floor while that person may still be waiting for what they think is the normal amount of pause and the effect can be that the one who thinks this normal amount of pause has come and gone and they’re nice person and they want to make sure that this is a good conversation that it doesn’t run down. They will take the floor and they might do that again. And then again and the effect is that the person who’s waiting for that longer pause never gets the floor because the length of pause they think is normal never comes. So this tiny little difference linguistic difference how long a pause you think is normal can create massive disruption in the conversation and especially important. Lead to negative evaluations of the other person. You don’t give me a chance to speak. You just want to hear yourself talk or you have nothing to say. Why don’t you do your part in this conversation? Or maybe you don’t like me and that’s why you don’t want to contribute to the conversation and you even see these kinds of frustrations between close friends between lovers between people who live together people who are married to each other.

Because these assumptions are so automatic. I feel interrupted you must have intended to interrupt me. And then sometimes it really can just be traced to this difference in conversational style. And then I can go on and say once a person is aware of this they can make adjustments those of us who are expecting a short pause and we realized that the person were talking to hasn’t spoken much we can force ourselves to wait. Maybe count to seven past the time you think they have nothing to say and see if they begin speaking or if you’re having trouble getting the floor. You can push yourself to begin speaking before it feels natural to do so and so many people that I have talked to on having a consciousness raised in this way. Tell me that that often solves a problem.

LW: Yeah, you know, it’s an interesting thing, I don’t study Linguistics, but I am coach. I coach people on how to have more effective conversations in the workplace. And certainly I coach quite a lot of public speaking. The word “pacing” and the word “pausing” comes up in public speaking quite a bit and but in a different way than it is here. However, I have noticed quite a lot of my foreign-born Founders and foreign-born Executives come to the United States and this issue of pausing is really difficult for them because they don’t catch when that pause is going to come and when it’s going to be their turn in an environment where it’s not just one-on-one. It’s in a room full of people that are all competing to be heard. And so I’m asked that question at least once a week.

Dr. Tannen: You know, Lisa, how do I tell when I can really interject without being rude and it’s something that we have to work on.

LW: I’m wondering just because you mentioned America Americans did you do some study beyond the United States on that and noticed any difference?

Dr. Tannen: I have not done it in the same principled way of analyzing, you know recording conversation transcribing it timing the pauses. I haven’t but in just observation and the work of colleagues who have done that. It seems clear that many of the cultures of many Asian cultures one person actually grad student of mine study this. Pauses in a meetings among Japanese employees and Executives and she actually recorded a comment Applause of 18 seconds. And when she would speak about this she would tie in 18 seconds and most Americans at that point were jumping out of their seats. Yeah, and then then then there are other cultures who I think Mediterranean. German is one is really where there would be much there would be a shorter pause and I should say too that there are some conversational styles where you don’t want a pause and this is often the case with people from New York City. It isn’t only Eastern European background New Yorkers. But New York is a many backgrounds Italians Irish, maybe as well where you simply start to wind down as a signal to the other person. I’m recycling what I’m saying. So that’s your signal that I’m really done and there are so many things that go along with this in the my initial study. If someone starts speaking before you really were ready or you’re trying to get the floor and no one is stopping. You don’t give up you just try again and if they don’t pick it up, then you try again and there was one example where someone was trying to get the floor to say something and there was it was a big group and people weren’t stopping he tried seven times and he was one of the New Yorkers the Californian would never do that. They try once it’s not picked up they give up I think of this as an economy. It’s an economic system. It’s a balance.