We’ve all sat through at least one boring presentation in our lives, right?
So, how do we stop the audience from yawning and their eyes glazing over?
What if they’re online and we can’t even see them? There are a million distractions at their fingertips. How are you going to engage them and keep them focussed?
Here are a few things you can quickly implement to improve engagement in your presentations…
Welcome to the workshop, we have a minute and a half to talk about how to fix problems with engagement. When you see your audience’s eyes glazing over, or if you’re presenting online, you may not even be able to see your audience. But you know, they’ve got all these distractions available to them that they can be checking their emails, they could be on social media, and you wouldn’t even know about it. How do you keep your audience engaged? Well, there are so many things we could put in here that we’re not going to have time to cover them in a minute and a half. So I want to give you a few simple things you can do to engage your audience more. One would be to add a bit of mystery into what you’re doing, especially if the topic is kind of dry. Pique curiosity, if you possibly can, to get people a bit more interested in tuning in. If you can put a mystery or something unsolved in front of people. We have this thing inside of us that wants to unravel mysteries, we have an innate sense of curiosity, so we can utilise that in presentations. Seek engagement regularly as well. Get some feedback from your audience. If they’re live with you and you can see them, then you can ask them to say something back to you, repeat a word back to you, or turn to the person next to them or stand up and have a stretch. And you’d probably want to do that about every five to seven minutes in a live presentation, especially if it’s a long one. If you are doing online presentation, use the chatbox, use any features you’ve got that allow your audience to interact with you, but there’s so much more we could do here about increasing engagement, but here’s some tips for you that you can apply. Come back tomorrow we’ll be talking a bit of Friday Philosophy.
Welcome to speaking of influence with John Ball from present influence.com.
Each week we talk about presentation skills and public speaking and the tools of influence and persuasion with experts and incredible guests. Stay tuned and enjoy the show. Speaking of influence is uploaded and distributed to all major podcast networks through Buzzsprout. Buzzsprout is the simplest way to get your podcast started with tons of great resources for new podcasters. You could start your podcast today, follow the link in the show notes.
In this episode, I’m talking about how to remember your presentations, how to remember your content so that you can deliver it in any kind of presentation. It could be a business presentation to your team or your company. It could be a professional presentation to an audience that maybe you want to sell to. It might be a speech at a wedding really anywhere where you want to help yourself. Remember your speech could even be at your local Toastmasters club.
How do you remember your speeches, the strategy that a lot of people seem to take, probably from not really knowing any better, is writing the whole thing out and then trying to memorise the whole damn thing. Maybe that’s from a past of having done theatre productions and learning your lines, that kind of thing. But this isn’t the same. This is your voice. So if you try to say things exactly as you’ve done them, you might really struggle and it’s probably not going to sound natural. There are strategies that you can employ to help you remember what’s in your presentation, without having to use your notes and lean on any kind of crutches at all. And to feel fully confident that you can pull it all together. I’m going to address some of them. There may well be other ones that I don’t get to in this episode. And maybe you have some suggestions for remembering speeches that I might not cover, which I would love to hear as well and maybe we could share with the audience.
The first one is one that you may get from a company or organisation like Toastmasters International, plan out your presentation and know what you want to say, script, the start, script the end but the middle part, the content part, you want to bullet point it and just be able to go through each bullet on there without having it formally scripted, so that you have some room to ad-lib. And you’re not trying to remember exactly word for word, what your presentation is supposed to sound like. So that’s a great way to do things: script the start, script the end, remember those. Learn those because that’s not a big part to learn. And then in the middle, your content part is just bullet points that allow you to ad-lib.
One method that I have used before The Cicero cards, I’ll try and get them, the light isn’t shining on them. So there’s an episode that I have out with this from a while back with Sefirot publishing, which is Andrea and Matteo, and they are the creators and publishers of the Cicero cards., They’re a great way to visually help you to plan your presentation, I’ll put a link to that into the description so that you can go and get your own set of Cicero cards. They have some other great products that you like, I know that in the episode that I recorded with them, they were talking about some of their plans for card decks that are coming up as well. The creativity pack is really good. The storytelling pack is really good. So I recommend getting the whole set if you’re up for it. But at least if you’re doing presentations, definitely get yourself a set of Cicero cards. You can layout your presentation, structure it and have it on post-it notes and have it as visual cues as well. Because it’s nicely visual, we tend to have better visual memories for things. So using something like this, the Cicero cards can really help you You’re more likely to remember that layout and you can even stick it up so that you can see it regularly whilst you’re preparing or practising for your presentation. I think it’s better than having a script in front of you that may be difficult to follow.
Times where it may be okay to use a script is for doing something like this some sort of webcam recording, where you may be delivering a longer message by yourself. In which case, you could use a script. But the trouble with that is, unless you actually have a good teleprompter setup, you still may look a bit unnatural, people are still going to see that you’re reading. And a lot of people don’t read the same way that they talk. So sounding natural whilst you’re reading is challenging in itself, but it could be good. There are some teleprompter apps that you can use. Some of them are free to download as well. And easier if you have a Mac possibly I don’t know what’s available on PC I’m afraid, but they can help you at least with practising your speech.
Which brings us to practising! Practising is really the number one way to make sure you remember your presentation. Don’t expect that you’re just going to get out there and deliver it. In fact, I was just chatting on an episode recording recently, which will be out around the end of the month with an amazing lady who is a presentation skills expert. And one of the things that she was saying is that you just can’t go out there and think that you’re going to be able to improvise in the middle of your presentation. It just won’t work. You have to be prepared for this and you need to practice. So even if it’s not a professional presentation, practice, practice, practice, it’s the best thing that you can do. It’s going to help you get it solid inside your mind. Practice your movement with your presentation as well. So that you know it’s embodied and you actually really own it. Then the more you do it, the easier it will get. It’s been said that amateurs will practice until they get it right, professionals will practice until they can’t get it wrong. So be the one who practices until you can’t get it wrong.
Some of the other things that can help you with memorising a speech or remembering or your content is to use flashcards. So, they can be useful. Have your bullet points there, go through them regularly refresh your mind on them. Review your presentation regularly as well in advance of delivering it. If you have to do something a bit more off the cuff. Well, really, if you get more experience in giving presentations, it does get easier to do that. And you can more comfortably do it. I have talked about the 4mat structure before in an episode, but if you use this structure, you probably could never really run out of things to talk about, you’ll always find a way to deliver something. So remember this structure of 4mat. You, first of all, deliver the why; why do you need to know this? Why am I talking about this? What you’re answering for your audience is ‘why should I care?’ ‘Why should I care what you’re talking about? Tell me’. You have to get that first. Once you’ve got the Why should I care, then you’re going to go into the what; what it is I’m actually talking about? The data element of your presentation. Then you will go into the how; how are we going to use this? How do I do this? Maybe a bit of a practical element there, or maybe some kind of demonstration, or even figures or slides or whatever you choose to use in your presentation? Then you’re going to go to what next? Or what if? So, you might be presupposing some questions that people might be asking, okay, well, what about in this situation? Would that still apply? Or would it need to change? Or what do they do with this? Now, what next? Okay, we’ve had the meeting, we’ve talked about this, what comes next? If you have those four elements in your presentation, you won’t go too far wrong. So why, what, how, what next/what if. Why, what, how, what if or what next. So that’s why. what, how, what if or what next. Get that into your brain, and you will be able to talk about just about anything without probably running out of things to say, or at least sounding like you somewhat know what you’re talking about.
A great way to help you remember presentations as well is to turn some keywords or key points of your presentation into a story. So link it as your mind as again as a visual story. So you this is sometimes called a visual stack. And that’s what you want to create. So that you have an idea of what comes next in your presentation. You’re going to build up a visual story of images that help you remember what comes next and then create a story around those. So it’s a great method for helping you to remember stuff we remember stories very well. Even crazy ones that we end up creating ourselves. We can remember them far better than just trying to remember bullet points or keywords when you tell those keywords or points into visual images, they become much more memorable. This means that you can have a little story that you construct together that leads you through each of the elements of your presentation and makes it easy for that to come back to you as and when you need it.
The next memory device I’m going to talk about his memory palaces. This is a technique that has been used for a long time by memory experts to help them remember long sequences of information. And it works by thinking about the rooms that you know really well. So you would maybe start with your own living room, and you’re going to mentally pick an association between what you want to remember to an item in your living room. And then so might be a lamp, for example, maybe the first item you start with is a lamp and perhaps you’re going to do the start of your presentation there which could be your introduction or your greeting, then maybe you’re going to move to an armchair and then you’re going to tag something else to that. So, at the armchair you’ve got this, again, using visual representations of your presentation points here is going to help. So for your greeting of the lamp, you might have the handshake or the welcome everybody however, you’re going to do your, your initial greeting. From there you go to perhaps you’re going to go into a story. So you might put on the armchair a storybook is on the armchair to help you remember that. Then you maybe go to the TV, and the next part you’re going to go into is an explainer for your content. So perhaps there’s a documentary on the TV that helps you remember, okay, this is the explain apart. So carry on like this, and it’s going to help you remember sequences and orders of things. It’s a really useful technique and can be very effective. Don’t leave it to the last minute to come up with your memory palace. Again, the more practice you can be with using it, the easier it’s going to be to actually implement it into your presentation and to utilise it. If you need to the last minute is going to be hard to remember it still.
I think another great way to help you remember some of your presentation more, is to record yourself giving your presentation. So if you do script it out, or if you have some practice version of it that you like, have it recorded, listen back to it, play it back to yourself, and make sure it’s as memorable to you. That’s good advice. Anyway, this all requires some level of practice, but you know what, even if you need to get a presentation and you need to mentally rehearse it and practice it, being able to listen to it back and visualise yourself, giving the presentation is going to help you as well. So mental rehearsal is definitely good. I know from personal experience of using state rehearsal, mental rehearsal is very useful. And it can even help you with terms of state management as well, that you want to watch yourself delivering the presentation in the way that you would really want to deliver it with the level of energy that you want to deliver that with as well so that you’re visualising that the best that you could possibly ever do it. So, it’s more likely then that you’ll get up on a stage and platform and be able to deliver it that way.
So, these are just some of the things that I have used to help me remember presentations in the past as well. I do think out of all of them practice is the key one that runs through all of them. And so make sure that you give yourself time to practice your presentations. If you have less than ideal time to do that, then you can try some of these perhaps mental shortcuts that we’ve mentioned, that may help you out. Please do not read out your presentations, do not rely on flashcards when you’re actually delivering and let go of the crutch of needing to have your notes with you as soon as you possibly can. If you’re starting out in a public speaking practice club, you can definitely start with your notes if you need to, and move away from them but as quickly as you can. It’s important to let go of that crutch but I understand sometimes when it’s your first presentation or that you have a lot of fear about getting up on the stage and delivering it, having that comfort of knowing that if you get really lost, your notes are there to help you out can be really useful. So in those situations is absolutely fine. But if you’re giving something a bit more formal, you want it to be a bit more spectacular, you want to make an impact, have it well-practised, be prepared, and leave the need for your notes behind.
So those are my tips on how to remember your material for any kind of presentation. Hope they’ve been useful. I hope you’ll share some of your tips as well. Or tell me if you find these tips useful if you’re going to use them, implement them yourself in your own public speaking and presentation work. And I’m going to look forward to catching up with you again on Friday. Friday. This week is going to be part two of my interview with Matthew Dicks, the author of Storyworthy, it was an incredible interview so good I had to put it into two parts because it was just too much information to put it all out in one go. So I hope you’ll come back and join us for that. Check out the first part if you haven’t already listened to it. I’ll be back next week with some more great stuff about how to do great presentations with impact, remember them all kinds of tools and tips, some presentation skills and the tools of influence and persuasion. Make sure you like and subscribe when I say on YouTube. Now smash the like button. If there’s a Like button, you can smash, go ahead and smash it. But subscribe. If you’re on YouTube, click the bell icon, you’ll get notified for all my new videos, you can even tune in to some of my daily content, which is a little bit different, cover some different things each day, some of them relating to presentation skills, and some of them in some slightly different areas as well. Come and connect with me on LinkedIn, if you’d like to connect and speak, LinkedIn is the best place to find me. I’m looking to be a guest on some podcasts at the moment. So if you have some suggestions for who I would make a good guest for that you think would be a good fit, then I’d love to hear that as well. So, other than that, let’s say Sayonara for now, and I’ll see you Friday.
Thanks for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed With the show if you’d like to get in touch with me, please send an email to john at presentinfluence.com you can check out my website present influence dot com as well. Lots of updates and information of previous shows and stuff that’s coming up as well, including training courses and webinars. The best place to connect with me online is LinkedIn. So if you’d like to come and find me on LinkedIn, you can also find that I post my daily videos up there as well. And I’d love to get any kind of feedback you might have about the show. If you have suggestions for guests or any kind of feedback that might help us to improve the podcast, then I would love to hear it. All that remains for me to say is glad you enjoyed the show. Thanks for sticking with us. And please make sure that you have liked and subscribed. Have a great day.
Earlier this year I downloaded an audiobook called Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks and I was blown away by all the amazing secrets of storytelling he shares from his own experience as an international best selling author, 48-time winner of The Moth Story Slam and 6 time Grand Slam champion.
Matthew is also the creator of Homework for Life, a daily practice of writing down your most story-worthy moments each day and filling your world with stories. This one tool alone has been transformative for me.
In this first part, Matthew talks about how he got started with telling stories and shares some of his insights into what makes a good story or a ‘meh’ story.
Make sure you join us next week for part 2 by subscribing to ‘Speaking of Influence’.
John Ball 0:00
Welcome to speaking of influence with John Ball from PresentInfluence.com. Each week we talk about presentation skills and public speaking and the tools of influence and persuasion with experts and incredible guests. Stay tuned and enjoy the show. Speaking of influence is uploaded and distributed to all major podcast networks through Buzzsprout. Buzzsprout is the simplest way to get your podcast started with tonnes of great resources for new podcasters. You could start your podcast today follow the link in the show notes.
Fantastic. Well, I’m really happy today to introduce my guests here he is an international best selling author both in fiction and nonfiction. A 48-time winner of The Moth Story Slam six-time grand champion as well, elementary school teacher, storyteller, blogger, wedding DJ, minister, life-coach, podcaster and a co-founder of Speak-Up, which is an organisation dedicated to teaching storytelling and public speaking skills and hosting shows around the country to different organisations and networks. And I’m really happy to say he’s the author of an incredible book called Storyworthy, which is the where I was first introduced to him as well, which is why I’ve invited him on the show today. A big, big welcome to Matthew Dicks.
Matthew Dicks 1:26
Thank you very much. That was very kind of you. That was a very generous introduction.
John Ball 1:30
I think even then I’ve left some stuff out, right. You, you get so much done. You’re a very accomplished guy, and it’s quite incredible. Do you have any time for other things?
Matthew Dicks 1:44
Yeah, I spend a lot of time with my children. I play a lot of golf. I am constantly cleaning my house. I feel like so yeah, no, I get a lot done. My next book that’s coming out will be a book on productivity, actually how I managed to get things done in the way that I get done.
John Ball 2:00
Oh, fantastic. Well if there are as many secrets and tools as the story where the boat then I’m definitely going to be checking that out. Matthew, I was really excited to have you on the show today and doesn’t he just started recording your book is the only time I’ve ever picked up a book and read it and then have to reread it and then reread it again. And even then I know I’m gonna keep coming back to it, because there are so many secrets to storytelling and so many compelling stories of your own in there as well. And it was amazing. Now, I will share with you, the friend mentioned to you just before that she’s been using your materials to in her own presentation work and I’ve seen in our Toastmasters club, her presentations have rocketed just from implementing your storytelling skills. So that’s a really wonderful thing and part of why I’m so excited to have you as a guest and I want to ask you that. I know a little from the book but what got you into telling stories. I’m
Where did that start? And tell us for the audience a bit about how you got started with the math and what that is because I think a lot of the audience may not know.
Matthew Dicks 3:09
Sure. I mean, in terms of the oral storytelling, you know, telling stories of my life, I started with the moth. The moth is an international storytelling organisation, they, they promote true stories told live without notes on stages around the world, that the art and craft of storytelling. I got started back in 2011. I’m a novelist already. You know, I’ve been writing stories for all of my life, essentially, since I was 17. I’ve been writing every day of my life. So between my blog and my novels, I had been telling stories but sort of on the page, you know, not out loud, at least, not in any organised way. You know, I discovered later on that I basically had been telling stories all my life to my friends. That’s the way I get through life essentially. My wife once described me as an unlikeable person who tells a good story and obviously, she wasn’t feeling that great about me on that day, but she’s kind of correct. But back in 2011, the moth, this, this organisation, they started podcasting stories. And my friends’ point can be the podcast because they knew I was a writer and someone who would like these kinds of things. And I did. And eventually, they said, go to New York. I live about two and a half hours from New York. I said, they said, go to New York and compete in one of their competitions. And I do like competition more than I would be willing to admit. But I really didn’t want to go to New York and stand on a stage in front of hipsters and tell stories about my life. It was terrifying to me honestly. But they kept pressing and I, I kept pushing back. And eventually, I said, Fine, I’ll go and I’ll tell one story. one and done is what I said. And that’s how it began. I mean, it’s crazy because my life has changed completely in the last nine years. With the initiation of one story on one stage in New York, and thinking that would be the last one and it became one of many many, many
John Ball 5:00
Yeah, and I know this is in the book. But can you share a little of that story about how you actually ended up getting up on the stage there and speaking? Oh, sure.
Matthew Dicks 5:09
So it was at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. It was sort of this some, no, this room filled with about 300 people. And Dan Kennedy was the host that night, who is also the host of the podcast, he and the writer himself sort of a god to me today, he is my friend, which is astounding to me. But back then he was a god. And my wife was with me and we were sitting. The way a moss story slam works is they have a bag at the stage and you put your name in the bag, and they draw 10 names out. And so 10 people get to tell a story that night on a theme that’s been chosen. And so I put my name in the bag and there were about 20 people in the bag that night and as soon as I put my name and I just prayed that they wouldn’t pick me. You know, I would go home I tell my friends I tried, they would leave me alone. That would be the end of it. And we managed to get through nine names without my name being chosen. So I was certain I did not have to take the stage that night. I already like mentally gotten into the car and started heading home when I heard my name chosen. And as they said my name I froze, because it occurred to me that no one in the room actually knew who I was. So I figured as long as I sit very still and very quiet, they’ll eventually move on to another name. And I won’t have to do this thing that I really don’t want to do. But my terrible wife kicked me underneath the table, and she said, that’s your name. And I said I know. And she said You need to go and tell your story now. And I said, I really don’t want to and she said, Go tell your story. And I hated every moment of that night until I stood in front of the microphone and began speaking. And the first words that came out of my mouth, I knew that I had sort of found a place where I belonged. You know, now, rationally, my wife pointed out to me much later, years later, really, when I was telling someone how I sort of fell into something I was good at because I won that story slam that night, and I’ve gone on to win, you know, more than anyone else. I said, Oh, I just got lucky. I found something later on. In life that I was just, you know, equipped to do, and my wife shook her head and she said, You know, you’re such an idiot. And she pointed out that I had been writing all my life. You know, I was a published novelist and a blogger. And all of that turns out to be really helpful when it comes to storytelling because it informs my storytelling. I’m also a big film aficionado, like, when I was 10, I saw it for the first time. And I wrote to Steven Spielberg, I wrote him a letter telling him that I love all your movies, but you keep screwing up one or two scenes. And if he would send me the early cut of your movie, I would fix it for you. I’d tell you where you’re messing up. And you know, I just watched gt with my son two weeks ago, and I saw the same scene. I feel the same way I felt when I was 10 years old, and I wrote to Steven Spielberg, so I’m sort of really invested in stories at a young age. I’m also a wedding DJ for 20 years. So standing up in front of two or 300 people who have never met before and speaking to them was not a big deal to me that has helped. And then I’ve been a school teacher for 20 years. So I stand in front of 10-year-olds, which are the worst audience You could ever be given for seven hours a day and have learned how to hold their attention and gate and engage them. So my wife pointed out to me that all of those things sort of came together for me on that night when I took that stage. I didn’t understand that at the time, I thought I was just sort of, oh, I’m good at this, but it’s really a lot of training that I didn’t know I was engaged in.
John Ball 8:19
What was the first story that you told them that you won that competition?
Matthew Dicks 8:23
I told a story about pole vaulting in high school, and I became a pole vaulter. And really, it’s a story about how, as a pole vaulter, I was rooting against one of my fellow pole vaulters on my team, even though it would hurt our overall team if he didn’t clear opening height and prove himself. It was the admission that sometimes when you’re playing a team sport, you just want to be the best one on the team. And if your team loses, but you are one of the better performers during the loss that is actually better than your team winning and you know, getting any recognition at all. It’s it was the idea right away and I understood it right away that we have to say the things that are hard on stage in order for people to appreciate what we’re saying. So what was it an acknowledgement of vulnerability? It was the, you know, there’s a line in that story that is something like it was the realisation that I live in a pre-Copernican world where I am the centre of the universe, but no one seems to be aware of it. It was that acknowledgement that sometimes we’re selfish, terrible people, and I was on that day.
John Ball 9:32
I love your stories, that there are all sorts of different messages. It’s not all like motivational speaking about a whole variety of the whole emotional range that comes up in your stories and different life lessons, some painful and some very emotional and heartfelt. I really, really love hearing them. Thank you. Did you have specific teachers that you learned your craft from or was it more of a by doing it that you already had some sort of affinity to this and you wanted to develop it yourself?
Matthew Dicks 10:03
Yeah, I didn’t really have any teachers. I mean, I went to college and got an English degree in creative writing. I can’t really point to anyone except for a poetry teacher who really sort of guided me in terms of really writing. And years later, actually, when I went back to the poetry I wrote for him, I discovered I was really just writing short stories in the poetic form. They were all autobiography, you know, memoirs about moments in my life. What happened? Really, the thing that helped me the most was I started teaching storytelling. You know, my wife and I started producing shows here in Connecticut, there was no there was nothing around where I was living. So we started producing shows and in our show, she’s the host, and I tell a story and every single show a different story every time. And so people started seeing me a lot and they wanted to learn what I was doing, you know, they wanted they said, teach me and I didn’t want to teach them at first because I teach 10-year-olds because I don’t like adults. So I said, No, I don’t want to teach you I already I teach during the day. I don’t want to teach at night. Then finally I agreed to do one workshop again, I said one and done. I said I’m doing what teaching one workshop. I’ll never teach another one. You have to come to this one. Yeah. And I thought it was going to hate it. And it turns out, I loved it. And it’s basically what I do now all the time. But by teaching it, what I discovered was I was doing things inherently things that I had picked up through the writing and through the I don’t know that the speaking, you know, speaking engagements I was doing serve as a wedding DJ and my teaching, all of that had sort of coalesced, and inside of me, and I had a whole bunch of things that I was doing without being aware that I was doing them. But when I had to teach it, I had to examine what I was doing. Because my first instinct when I watch people tell stories was, Why are they so stupid? Why don’t they just understand how to do it? You know, I’d come home and I’d say, Honey, I can’t imagine why anyone would think that’s a good way to start a story. And she would always say, I don’t know, maybe they haven’t been writing for 20 years. I don’t know maybe they weren’t writing to Spielberg when they were 10. Maybe they aren’t obsessed with stories like you are and so You know, I always needed her to sort of knock me back. And it was through the examination of my stories, and the realisation of the strategies that I used naturally that I was able to sort of break them out into curriculum. And it made me a better storyteller too because I was able to see how, oh, I do this in 80% of my stories, but really, I should be doing it and 100% of my stories, so it improved my storytelling and the process to write
John Ball 12:22 Other than it being something that you really enjoy and are passionate about. Do you feel that there is a purpose to the storytelling that you live for may be part of your values that make you want to do that at all?
Matthew Dicks 12:36
Yeah, the follow up to Storyworthy which I’m working on right now is called the healing power of storytelling. Its sort of what I used to think was the hokey side of storytelling that no one would want to hear about. And it turns out, everybody is sort of obsessed with it. You know, for me, storytelling has brought many, many things, many benefits to my life. It connects me with other human beings in an intense and immediate way that the number of times that I step off the stage, and a complete stranger comes up to me and immediately tells me a secret from, you know, her life that she’s never said to a single human being in her entire life. But suddenly, I am the receptacle of her secret like, and that happens to me all the time. So I immediately connect with people. It’s really helpful in terms of framing your life, you know, I’ve had one of these really strange live lives filled with trauma and disaster. And some of it’s hard to live with, you know, I was homeless for a period in my life, for example, and I was homeless, mostly because no one would help me. My family sort of abandoned me and my friends were unavailable to me. And even the friends who offered to help me It turns out, they weren’t really offering help. They were sort of gesturing hoping that I wasn’t going to need it and when I really needed it, they pulled it back. And that was really hard for me for a long time to recognise the fact that I was homeless because Basically, no one loves me enough to take care of me at that point in my life. And, you know, situations like that have a way of sort of bleeding into the rest of your life and basically through your life. But what I discovered is the day that I crafted that into a story, my homelessness, that period that I had, I gave it a beginning and an end. And then in crafting the story, I found some meaning and some value in that period in my life. And then I turned it into art, you know, something that I could stand on a stage and connect with human beings and make them laugh and cry and make them examine themselves differently. And suddenly, something that sort of felt like, you know, an infection throughout my entire life that I thought about all the time. Why didn’t people love me at that point in my life, it really became a chapter in my life and an encapsulated thing that had value rather than what it had been before which was sort of festering and awful. And so I found a lot of value in that in terms of processing my trauma and dealing with disappointment. All of those things, my life feels more important. It feels more sort of visceral through storytelling, all of those things have happened to me.
John Ball 15:08
Yeah, it does seem that there is a lot of power in opening yourself up and having a high level of vulnerability through that channel that is allowing other people to connect into that. And I do think in the world of presentations, very few people do seem to be willing to pull back the curtain if you like, and show what’s really behind all the real heart or emotions of things. They’re not so pretty sides of life may not always be so appealing in this world where everyone’s trying to live their best Instagram life, for everything. Yeah.
Matthew Dicks 15:43
The trick the hard part about it is it requires courage. You know, I work with lots of, you know, corporate folks and CEOs and people like that, who I have to really convince that the stories people want to hear not the stories of your success. They don’t want to hear the wonderful days of your life. They don’t want to see your perfect Instagram photos or your lovely Facebook posts, you know, it requires genuine courage to stand up in front of people and share. You know those truths about yourself that most people don’t speak about. I’m not gonna say that I’m courageous. To be honest though. I was in a workshop recently with a woman who’s taken a whole bunch of my workshops. And she said to me, in the workshop, she said, You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met, because of what you say. And I had to correct her. Because honestly, for whatever reason, it has never been difficult for me. I have always just been an open book, you know, it’s a combination of arrogance, stupidity and narcissism that blend together to create a blanket, making it so that I don’t care what other people think about me genuinely and truthfully. But not everyone is like me, most people to get on a stage or to share with a group of people. Something really deep and personal, one of those uglier moments of our lives for most people that is extremely hard. And it requires enormous courage and when people aren’t willing to do it, essentially what is the truth is there like lacking the courage
John Ball 17:01
Yeah, you sometimes see a lot of those elements in stand up comedy as well as surprising my people do and often revealing a lot about who they are and how they see the world and their their life experiences as material for their routines as well as getting to see a lot of similarity in that?
Matthew Dicks 17:19
I do I do stand up. I don’t like it nearly as much as storytelling. The problem with stand up I have is twofold. One is stand up to making people laugh all the time. And so I tell really hard stories that sometimes don’t cause the audience to laugh at all. So there is sort of a there’s a buffer in saying hard things when you know, other people are going to laugh and feel good about them. You know, it’s much harder to say hard things when you know, you’re just sort of laying it out there absent the humour. The other thing is stand-ups aren’t always telling the truth. In fact, oftentimes they’re not they take a kernel of truth, and then they expand it into something that contains A lot of you know, a lot of dishonesty, which is perfectly acceptable in a stand-up situation. But oftentimes when they say I was talking to my girlfriend last night, they’ve been married for 15 years, and they’re really talking about something that happened a long time ago. And they’ve modified it for the sake of the joke. And so I find that stand-ups are wonderful people. I love them. I pay a lot of attention to them. But there are moments when I think you don’t have the same level of authenticity and vulnerability because you’re doing stand up. Now. I think that might not be the case. For some, I think someone like Mike Birbiglia. I think he probably leans on truth 95% of the time, but I know a lot of stand-ups don’t.
John Ball 18:37
Yeah. And that makes sense. And in the book, there’s a chapter about I think it’s the five times it’s okay to lie in a story. Is that right?
Matthew Dicks 18:44
Yes, yes. Oh, I actually, yes, I call them lies, because I like the power of that word. The rule I always have is, I never put anything into a story that didn’t actually happen. But I’m more have been willing to remove things from a story. In order for the story to be more presentable to an audience. I always say that whatever modifications I’m making to a story, whether I’m messing with time, or I’m pulling out characters I’m doing for the sake of the story, never for the sake of myself, so I’ve never changed the story in such a way to make me look better. Or even to make it funnier. I’m really doing it for the sake of the story sort of it’s the idea of straightening out all the unnecessary material. So what’s leftover can sort of shine at the brightest that it possibly can.
John Ball 19:32
Yeah, but that’s, I love the way you tell stories. And it does show that you would eat nutshell things down and in the book, you explain how much you’ve cut away. What just isn’t essential to the story. I think the story where you talk about being an airport where you needed to get a car and you couldn’t get a car and that particular on how much you had to narrow that down because there were so many elements in there that weren’t To be essential to the story, so you ended up starting it much closer to the actual event.
Matthew Dicks 20:06
Yeah, there’s that idea that everything is sort of bloated in the beginning. You know, it’s much less so now for me when I craft a story, I have better instincts. But you know, a story like that, which is me flying to Florida to rent a car. It just feels like things like the airport and the plane should be relevant to a story about going to Florida to rent a car, when the truth is, none of that matters. And the only thing that actually is important is standing at a car rental counter. And that is where the actual story takes place. It’s not my rule. It’s Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favourite authors. He had a rule for short stories, which was start as close to the end as possible. And I’ve always tried to follow that in my storytelling, although my first drafts the first attempt for me to tell stories, oftentimes that is the thing that I make the biggest mistake on them often starting in the wrong place.
John Ball 20:58
That’s interesting in itself. How long does it generally take you to craft a story to talk point where you feel that you’re ready to present it?
Matthew Dicks 21:07
It’s very different. Depending on the story, I had a story that took me five years to figure out how to tell. And I desperately wanted to tell it. And it legitimately took me five years to figure out the trick. To figure it was a story that involved a surprise, the audience had to be surprised at the end, they couldn’t see this thing coming. And I could not figure out a way for them to not see it coming. And then one day, I figured it out. But there’s also been moments where something happens to me and I can tell that story. The next day, you know, I want a story slam last year, a moth story slam. And I got to do this thing I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a story about something that happens to me at MIT. I’m teaching at MIT in Massachusetts, and I got on the stage and I said, So yesterday I was at MIT. And so over the course of those 24 hours, I had sort of put that story together and that there’s so much power and being able to stand on a stage and go so yesterday and really it was yesterday. Not that stand up yesterday, but that genuine yesterday. But I’ve put together stories in a couple of hours if there’s if they’re easy if they don’t contain a lot of backstory, you know, I’ve gotten into the car here in Connecticut and driven to New York to perform, and I prepare the story essentially, on the way to New York. I don’t write my stories out, I speak them aloud. I do everything orally. So that certainly helps to
John Ball 22:23
Yeah, how do you know them when their stories ready?
Matthew Dicks 22:28
Um, I mean, you don’t always know for sure until you’re on stage, you know, twice in my life. I’ve stood on a stage told the story, felt that was great. sat down and my storytelling friend, someone who I trusted, turned to me and said, Nope, that was not ready. So twice that’s happened to me and listening to the recording later. I went Yeah, he’s right. That was not ready. Typically, I know it when it sort of confirms or adheres to or supports my thesis statement. Every story that I tell has essentially a thesis statement. Which goes something like I used to be one kind of person. And then some stuff happens. And now I’m a new kind of person. And as I craft my story, if I look at it when I’m done, and I say, all right, everything that I’ve put into the story supports that thesis statement and nothing else. I’ve stripped it out of everything that it doesn’t mean, it doesn’t mean it can’t be improved. But once I’ve sort of confirmed and supported and verified my thesis statement, I feel like the story is ready to go. Yeah.
John Ball 23:26
One of the things and 30 so many, but one of the things I love most from the book was understanding a principle of making a real impact by doing something like having some runs of humour in a story and then having a huge impact with a big turnaround moment, a big sad moment straight afterwards for greater impact. That just really did that really struck me as like that is super powerful. And again, that was that something that you realised or that you learn from somewhere else?
Matthew Dicks 24:01
It was I didn’t learn it anywhere. I just I guess I inherently understood the power of contrast, which is enormous and storytelling. And so, you know, if I want to tell the story about, I tell a story about the death of my high school girlfriend, much later in life, you know, when she’s a mother, she passes away to cancer. I just, for whatever reason, knew that I can’t tell a five-minute story about the death of, of a mother, a young mother to cancer, no one will want to spend five minutes with me doing that. And also, I believe in the power of surprise, and storytelling more than, you know, more than I really often talk about. I just think it’s the most precious thing and storytelling. And so if you’re just going to tell a story about the death of a woman over the course of five minutes, you’re not gonna be able to surprise your audience. I understood that. In storytelling, what I want is my audience to feel the same thing that I felt at the moment that I’m describing. So in that story about my girlfriend Near the end of the story, that is when I discovered that she is dying of cancer. And I remember that moment, you know, right now, in a terrible way, I remember where we were. And I remember her speaking those words to me. And so if the goal of the story one of the goals is I want my audience to feel as devastated as I felt, I know I have to start in a place of elation, and joy in order to devastate them, right. Otherwise, there’s no way to do it. I often compare it to, if you’re dating someone, and you’re really, you want to dump them because they’re an awful person. The best way to dump someone is to take them on the greatest date they’ve ever been on in their entire life. And then at the very end of that blissful, perfect date, that’s the moment you dump them. Right. And that’s what I tried to do in storytelling. I try to manipulate their emotions in such a way that I get I hold them in one place so that I can bring them to another. And I can’t explain how I knew that. That was what needed. To be done, but I just knew it, I think probably, again, from writing and from paying attention to movies, I, if you want to be a storyteller, you’ve got to pay attention to movies, because stories that we tell are just movies that we put into the minds of our audience, we really are trying to create a movie in their mind. And so if you pay attention to what directors and screenwriters are doing on the screen, all of those things are translatable to what we do as storytellers when we’re creating those movies. And you can see them do that all the time in movies. You know, I always turn to my kids, I don’t do it to my wife because she punches me, but just pay attention to movies. And at the moment when every single thing has finally seemed to start working out for your protagonist. That is the moment when everything will go badly. And I’ll turn to my kids and I say, everything seems to be pretty good right now, doesn’t it? And then invariably, within three minutes, the world has fallen apart from the protagonists. I just I understood that that’s what filmmakers were doing and it’s what novelists do. When So that’s what I do when I’m telling stories.
John Ball 27:02
Yeah, it’s interesting because, again, this is something you talk a little bit about in the book as well. And that you can pretty much figure out where a film’s gonna go, more or less the whole story quite early on. Yeah. And I had a similar kind of realisation to that when I was at university, as part of my degree was in English. And I was studying postmodernism and watching some films as part of that. And in doing so, in watching things critically, rather than just watching them for entertainment, you just have a bit of a level of detachment and I realised that just watching a film with a level of detachment makes it a lot harder to enjoy them. Because you aren’t you start expecting things and you think, why am I seeing that or listen to the music or you notice more things that are going on when you’re not just in it to immerse yourself in the experience? And so it really struck me that you said that in your book that you can figure things out that Yeah, I reckon you pretty much can Yeah.
Matthew Dicks 28:00
Yeah, unless it’s a really artsy film or it’s, you know, a film like Memento, which was told in reverse, you know, even that’s when you can kind of figure out but I always say, pause the movie after the first 15 minutes, and you can probably tell what’s going to happen at the end of the movie, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to enjoy it. You know, my favourite example is When Harry Met Sally, we all know that Harry and Sally are going to fall in love by the end of the movie, they hate each other at the beginning of the movie. So even if you couldn’t figure it out from the title, we know they’re going to fall in love. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to love the movie, The journey can still be filled with surprise and delight and humour and sadness and all of those things. But ultimately, we know how things are going to turn out. And it’s the same thing for books. You know, I remember the first time I read Moby Dick. I remember thinking that the reason Ishmael is in this book is because his life is the only one in question. There’s no way a hab isn’t dying, right. A man obsessed with chasing a white whale is absolutely going to die in The pursuit of the white whale, right? So Ishmael is there because we have to worry about someone we can’t worry about Ahab, because we already know his fate. We can’t worry about Starbuck because within, within the first hundred pages of that book, you understand what his fate is going to be like, there’s only one redeemable person on that boat. It’s Ishmael and therefore will he live? Or will he die is the question. And so if you just start thinking about the choices that writers filmmakers and storytellers make, that’s what storytelling is. It’s about choice. Most people don’t make choices when they’re telling stories, they just say the first thing that comes to their mind, right? And if, if Melville didn’t make any choices, maybe Ishmael isn’t on that boat, and it’s just a straight line to obsession leads to death, and that would be the end of the story. So it’s just about making good decisions and good choices, thinking about what your audience is feeling at all times.
John Ball 29:50
Yeah. As someone who is a competitive speaker in a different way in Toastmasters competitions, are quite severely judged as their marketing Because you talked about you said anything get individual scoring better or that you can place in different positions but and in that environment, particularly where I myself and seen many other people tell many stories, you see a lot of good and a lot of bad and I’m sure you have as well. And one of the things that I think sometimes tends to trip people up the most is trying to use props or visual aids in the story as well, which you mentioned in the book as just a genuine No, no. What What is your general What are your thoughts about that when you see other people using it, because sometimes it can be used really well, but for your kind of storytelling? Probably not.
Matthew Dicks 30:41
No, I almost never. I was teaching a blind woman once who was telling a story about her came and she said, Can I bring my cane on the stage and even that, I thought, I guess you’re blind. You can have your cane. The problem is is that for me story I want people to get lost in their heads. I want them to actually forget that I exist. I want them to sort of forget where they are and who they are, which genuinely happens. I know it sounds crazy. But you know, if you’re watching the end of the film Titanic, and you’re crying, which you probably are, most people did write we’ve cried over Jack and rose in the ocean as jack died, even though we know that’s just Leonardo DiCaprio. And he’s not in the ocean. He’s in some pool in Hollywood, right? And that’s just Kate Winslet. She’s gonna be in a whole bunch of other films. They’re not even like, they’re the only two non-fictional characters actually in the movie. Everyone else in the movie actually lived on the Titanic and experienced those things. But we cry because we kind of forget who we are and what we are. For a moment. We’re in the North Atlantic with two people. And I want to do that in storytelling. I want to get people to forget where they are and who they are. And I think as soon as they take out a prop, I remind them actually you’re sitting in a theatre I am a storyteller standing on the stage. And now I’m holding a thing, right and I just can’t imagine ever having a thing that is worth stopping the movie in their head, and reminding them of where they are and having them stare at my thing. The best one I ever saw. The only one I really appreciated was at a month, one night in New York, a woman was talking about her bulimia, and how she was trying to get herself to throw up by with a spoon, and she swallowed the spoon. And so the spoon caught somewhere between her stomach and her mouth. She told the whole story, finished it and then took out the X-ray, and held it up for all of us. And I thought that was perfect because I am happy I saw the X-ray, but I’m also happy you waited until the story was done. You know, essentially the lights went up in the theatre. The story was complete, and then she held up the extra thought that worked for me otherwise it almost never works. Right? You
John Ball 33:00
I can remember years ago, this is my student days though, so quite some time ago that went to see a one-man production of Beowulf. It was in a function room above a pub. And it was an incredible actor who is really just the storyteller, telling the story acting out the parts, and it was captivating. I don’t even remember how long it was. I think it was quite a long show. And yet that story just kept us all completely hooked into it and sad that it finished. I agree. Have you ever had experiences like that with other people’s stories?
Matthew Dicks 33:42
Oh, yeah. Oh, there I mean, I have been blessed to see brilliant brilliant stories that feel like they took a minute and they went 11 minutes and you can’t believe it’s done. You know, I think that there are just some storytellers who understand the fundamentals of the craft. And have that ability to perform as well. You know, there. I’ve heard great storytellers or I’ve, I’ve heard great stories told by people who I have to worry about, you know that that feeling on stage where, oh, are you going to get through this? As soon as I’m worried about you in some way, you know, if you’re not exuding confidence, if you haven’t made me feel at ease, it’s hard to get lost in your head. If you’re worried about the person who’s speaking. You know, if you’re like, you can do it. Come on bright flower. Tell us your story. Right? That’s, that’s, it’s fine. There’s a lot of vulnerability in it, but I don’t get lost in my head. So I’ve been fortunate enough to hear brilliant, brilliant stories over the years and I’ve also been fortunate to hear some train wrecks because those are rather amusing as well, depending on how long they are.
John Ball 34:42
Do you find you learn for even from watching the train wrecks?
Matthew Dicks 34:47
Sometimes, sometimes they’re just, they’re just so fiery and explosive that there’s nothing to learn from. I actually learned more from the sort of storytellers who are doing these things that they’re not quite aware that they’re doing, you know, they use a strategy or they use a trick that they don’t realise the power of it. And I can sort of steal it from them, you know, and, you know, turn it fashion it into a tool that I will use all the time. Whereas for them, they just sort of stumbled upon something that was unintended. You know, oftentimes I tell storytellers, I love the way you did this and the story and they say, Oh, I didn’t even know I was doing it. You know that is often the case for many people. And what I’ve learned is to just steal these things that they don’t know they’re doing and to weaponize them for myself.
John Ball 35:32
Right. One of the things you mentioned earlier was about telling some quite emotional stories. And I know when I’ve done that, sometimes in the past, I’ve really struggled to get through the stories. How do you get through even telling a story that really is, you can tug on people’s heartstrings but is deeply emotional for you?
Matthew Dicks 35:52
Well, first off, I always say it’s fine to be emotional on stage. You know, as long as you haven’t reached the level of like snot bubbles. I think you’re kind of Okay, you know, there are some tricks that I use. When I tell stories, I see the story. In my mind’s eye, I sort of re-experience it. But there are moments and stories that I know, create an enormous amount of emotion in me. And in those moments, what I do is I detach from the story intentionally. So rather than seeing it through my mind’s eye, I forced myself to sort of float above the story, I almost start telling the story about a guy who is not me, even though I’m still using the word AI and speaking in the first person, I sort of see it as a story about someone else, I force myself to do that. I can also sort of neuter those challenging sentences by saying them over and over again turning them into words rather than meaning. Water onstage is extremely helpful. It’s a strange thing. One of my friends is a highly competitive guy who started telling stories. He says that water trick is the greatest trick of all time and like it’s not really a trick but what he was telling an emotional story one night, and I said, just have a bottle of water with you. And as you start to get emotional, have a sip of water. The use of it is when you take a sip of water, essentially, you really bring an end to the story for a moment, you completely stop the story and therefore you stop the emotion. And so then when you start the story back up again, wherever you’ve stopped, you know, you’re starting from a place of neutral rather than a place of emotion. So that really can help. And I always remind people that if you have to pause in a story to take a drink, or just to collect yourself, it is very likely that the audience appreciates, appreciates that pause too because they are probably also emotional, and would like to take a breath as well. So there are lots of strategies you can use. You can also put a laugh line, right after something deeply emotional, and that’ll cause the lions to laugh and make you feel better too. So sometimes the way you construct an emotional moment can help you get through it too.
John Ball 37:50
Right? What are the most common mistakes that you see other people make in storytelling?
Matthew Dicks 37:58
The most common mistake, I think is Not starting in the correct place. Most people think that they have to tell us a lot of things before the story can actually start. You can hear it when people are telling us someone’s telling a story to you. And at one point, halfway through the story, they use this phrase they say one day, and whenever they say one day, that’s actually the beginning of the story. What they’re saying is I just told you a whole bunch of stuff, so that I could tell you the story, but that’s not how stories really should be told. Right? My favourite example I always say if you’ve ever seen the film Apollo 13, right, that is a film that relies upon you understanding something about 1960s space travel, you really have to understand how NASA worked in 1960 to understand this film, but the movie does not start with Tom Hanks on the screen saying Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, before the story begins, I need to tell you a little bit about 1960s space travel right? Instead, the filmmakers wisely so they sprinkle the information that you need as the story progresses. Which is the way the story should be told. But most people feel when they’re telling a story that like, you need to know a whole bunch of things about my mother and about my life at that time and about what, where I am and what got me here when none of that really ever matters. And if it does launch your story first. So starting in the wrong place is often the mistake that I’m correcting the most often. The other thing people do, I just heard a story on a podcast before we talked, people tell stories about stuff that happened to them over the course of time. I just heard one of these stories, but it’s just stuff that happened to them over the course of time, right? It was a story I was just listening to about a woman with a terrible roommate. Essentially, what it amounted to was I moved in with someone, they ended up being terrible. Here’s how terrible they were. And one day I moved down. That’s essentially what her story was. That’s not a good story. That’s a terrible story. So people don’t fundamentally understand that a story in To be about a moment of change in your life, a moment of transformation or realisation, either I used to be one kind of person. And now I’m another or I used to think one way. And now I think another that is the way to emotionally connect with people. That’s the way to move people. every movie you ever see, every book you’ve ever read will always be about a character beginning in one place, and ending in a different place. But so many times people come to me and they think they have a good story because something crazy happened to them. You’re not gonna believe what happened to me. And like, if I don’t know if I was half drunk, maybe that might be entertaining to me a good bar story, but not something that’s going to stay with me and not something that’s worth my time. So those are the two biggest mistakes I see made most often.
John Ball 40:39
Yeah, sometimes we think things that we may have found funny in our own life or going to be funny to other people, whereas they may actually only have been specifically funny in that context in your own life and
Matthew Dicks 40:50
right or even things that are remarkable, like an amazing coincidence happens to someone. And you just think like, this is amazing. I have to tell the world, but the world is filled with question. incidences. And it turns out that your coincidences are really only amazing to you. Unless you can somehow weave them into a way that it fundamentally changed you as a human being, then maybe your coincidence will have some value otherwise, it’s nothing.
John Ball 41:13
You’ve said that each story really is only five seconds long.
Matthew Dicks 41:18
Yes, I really believe that. I think that when we those moments of transformation and realisation… COME BACK FOR PART 2
John Ball 41:26
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. If you have, please make sure to like and subscribe and come back for more great episodes and chats with amazing people. If you think you’d be a good guest for the podcasts or you know someone who would or you think I’d be a good guest for your podcast, please feel free to get in touch. You can email me, john at present influence.com if you think I’d be a good speaker for your event, or you’d like to learn more about public speaking presentation skills, whether that’s online or in-person, creating online products and services video comm Having clarity, confidence and charisma in all doing that, then please shoot me an email or visit my website, present influence calm and I’ll see you there.
Welcome to the podcast dedicated to the art and the tools of presentation and influence.
Being fully present with your audience, whether it’s one person or 3,000 people, is the best gift you can give them and the benefits are multiple.
In this episode, I talk about those benefits and some strategies for being more present for your talks and presentations.
Please remember to subscribe to the show and check out our catalogue of episodes with many amazing guests and many more coming up.
You can connect with me on my website: https://presentinfluence.com
My last episode with Dana Pharant has so far been my most downloaded episode of the podcast series where we talked quite a bit about her experience as a dominatrix and how she brought those lessons into her brand, presentation style and business consulting. She’s an incredible woman who stands in her own personal power and truly owns the title of badass.
In a chat with Dana, I mentioned that I was looking for a guest who had the experience of being in and then leaving a cult. It so happened that Dana is such a person and she was more than happy to return for an episode of my ‘The Dark Side of Influence’ series.
The conversation is powerful and informative and I hope it gives insight to the covert ways in which cults operate and control their members and also hope and resources to anyone leaving a cult or religion behind or perhaps thinking of doing so.
You can find out more about Dana on her website danapharant.com and download a free copy of her book Badass Intuition here
For a good video on how to get out of an organisation like the JW’s, go here
Welcome to speaking of influence with John Ball from present influence.com. Each week we talk about presentation skills and public speaking and the tools of influence and persuasion with experts and incredible guests. Stay tuned and enjoy the show. Speaking of influence is uploaded and distributed to all major podcast networks through Buzzsprout. Buzzsprout is the simplest way to get your podcast started with tonnes of great resources for new podcasters. You could start your podcast today, follow the link in the show notes.
And I’m really happy to welcome back to the show super badass business performance consultant Dana Pharant. Dana, welcome back.
Thanks, John. It’s a pleasure to get to spend some more time with you.
Our last recording has been one of the most popular episodes so far of the podcast. I’m really grateful for that. This is going to be a bit of a detour from what we talked about last time, but we did advise people that this is the topic we’re going to come back for, right? Yes. And so this time we’re going to be discussing cults really and the dark side of influence and persuasion and really the mind control kind of side of things as well. It’s a very interesting area. And before we get into your experience, because you actually have experience of having been a part of a cult, which I haven’t, I’ve had, I had religious experiences, but I certainly never been in a cult so to speak. But I got interested in this from just doing a public speaking project in my Toastmasters, which is how this podcast started in the first place. And it’s one way you’re supposed to research an area that you don’t know much about. I’ve seen a few YouTube videos from some sceptical YouTubers, I guess that was about it was about cults. So one of them was talking particularly about Steve Hassan who has the Freedom of Mind website. So I started looking into that and decided it was as good a subject as any to do a talk about and then found out there was really all this stuff in there about the dark side of influence and persuasion that was so relevant to a lot of what I do and that I’m interested in. And I’ve been keen ever since then to speak to someone who actually has real-life experience with that. And when you offered to have that discussion with me, I knew you’d be the perfect person to have that chat. So, let’s get into it a bit and tell us your experience of having been a part of a cult.
Yeah. Okay. So I grew up Jehovah Witness, which is listed as what they call a mild cult. So, you know, they don’t have extremism, in that it’s not a commune that you’re living in, but it still fits all the classic qualifications of a cult in that they segregate. You’ve got your own special language you have, you know, some sort of Doomsday prophecy. And there’s something there to keep you kind of locked in. And of course, if you leave, then you’re not allowed to connect with the members who are there. So they do a lot to kind of control things. It’s just not taken to and to some of the extremes that are, say, like the, like I said, the columbines you the places where it’s like it’s complete lockdown. But yeah, it’s quite fascinating. You don’t realise when you’re in it, how controlling it is. But then when you leave and you really start to, you know, take a step back and it’s, it’s taken me a good 20 years to really untangle the pieces, maybe even a little bit more because I’ve really been touching on some pieces recently. Again, another layer, but the programming happens on a daily basis. So when I was growing up, we went to church three times a week. We had door knocking once a week and then we were required to do Bible study on our own once a week, that’s five days a week that you’re being inundated with these thoughts, beliefs, information. And then it’s persuasive in that you’re only associated with other people who are also in the same tribe in the same you know, they call it a religion, but it’s really a cold. And so everybody that you talk to is also inundated with these ideas. So you’re not getting any information from the outside, which leads that deeper programming of Yes, this is the way to think this is what I should be doing. And you end up you know, kind of following along, it’s like those sheep just kind of getting, you know, herded into the pen. So it’s fascinating.
It’s a bit like, a bit like the Dunning Kruger effect to some degree like you don’t know what you don’t know. And when everyone’s kind of saying the same thing. If you know what everyone else is talking about really well and you know, all the ins and outs of that, you’re going to seem like a super smart person who’s got it all. Together, but outside of that community, it could be a very different picture. And people might think that you’re very limited in what you actually know and what your experiences. Now I didn’t have that level of limitation in my thinking, but I can certainly relate to the idea of being part of a community where the same story is essentially shared all around. And that how much that reinforces the beliefs that are being spread. But at what point did you start to realise that that wasn’t really, maybe how everyone else was living their lives and that you were in it in something that you might not even have recognised as being a cult as being different to normal?
Yeah, and you know, that really starts when you hit school because you’re segregated. So when I grew up, at that time, they played the Lord’s and lord’s prayer and the national anthem. And, and so we were required by our call to stand In the hall, so as as a, you know, right as a six-year-old, I’m standing in the hall during the Lord’s Prayer on the national anthem, again, you know, symbolising that I am not part of this group. So I’m really segregated from, but it’s very, it’s also it also does a jarring piece for the individual of like, I’m so different. Why are they doing all of this? And I’m not, you know, every time we have art class, we’re drawing Santa faces and I can’t, I have to do something different. Always leaving it so that I am different. I’m being picked on, you know, the kids are bullying me. You know, all those typical things. Anytime you’re different. You’re going to get picked on that started it. But, you know, in the early ages, you don’t really it’s like, well, this is all I have I need to be doing. I need to be conforming. And you’re told from the beginning or tooled all the way along, that they have it wrong. And this is the whole us versus them kind of scenario that always gets set up in a call They have it wrong. And so you feel like you are the chosen special people that somehow you have it right and they have a wrong. But I think for me, by the time I reached my teens, that was where it was like, you know, my, my brain was starting to, you know, really get into gear and I’m really questioning things because things don’t line up. Some of the things that I question, they don’t have really great explanations, not for my liking. And that starts me kind of, you know, looking around at that point and checking out what else is going on.
Were there ever any times before that where you may be questioning, but in a more general way, maybe not having any suspicions but just asking questions that were not being appreciated, And like, you know, ‘stop asking those questions’ this is a problem.
I think the earliest I can remember doing that, like really pushing back. I mean, I remember having questions, but just like, Oh, well, it’s just you know, we just go to church a lot like I just brushed it off. And then I would say probably about 14 was when I really started to ask more questions. And at this point, you know, I’m really getting the picture of what’s expected of me is that I get married and have kids, this is the expectation and then I’m not to go to college, you know, I’m talking about, you know, careers with a career counsellor at school. And people at church are like, Why? You’re just gonna get married, like, you don’t need to go to college. And it’s, and that probably was the biggest jarring piece for me, because I do have ambition. I do have drive and I could see myself you know, going and doing something at that time, I thought I was going to climb the corporate ladder. That’s a whole other story. But you know, that piece where they were pushing back on my desire to be ambitious, that created a question in my mind.
And I can well understand that as well. But what points did you make As you know, a better question perhaps to ask is what were the sort of some of the things that you started to notice other than things like not being able to draw centre or Jehovah’s Witnesses celebrate birthdays as well as that right? So So what were some of the other restrictions that you have? And when did you start to become aware of maybe not so obvious restrictions?
Uh, so obvious restrictions are all of the holidays so Christmas Easter all quote-unquote, religious holidays, and then birthdays somehow get lumped in there I don’t know. worshipping yourself or something. I don’t know. They have some reason there, whatever. So basically, there’s really not much in the way of celebrations. Yeah. And you know, that’s very different from everyone else. The not so obvious ones, like I said, it is a subtle undertone of women being second class citizens. So things like within the Churchwomen were not allowed to lead any kind of meeting. And then there were they’re always like these mini services before we went door knocking so you have as many services. So through the week, there weren’t always men available to lead. So they had this rule that if a woman was to lead one of these services, she had put a hat on to leave, like, what does that do? And that was my question. It was like, What is that do like I got hired on like, somehow that makes me a good substitute. And so those funny little quirks really did, you know, cause a questioning in my mind
so a lot of religions have those kinds of things those silly little laws that maybe they don’t seem silly when you’re in the religion but to people outside they might have probably do for you. I guess that’s one of the things people associate the most with the Jehovah’s Witnesses the door knocking. Yes. Did so you did some of that you Go with your family or did you go?
Yeah, so it was mostly was my family growing up so I was required to start taking like taking the lead talking outdoors. I remember this at eight. And the very first door that I knocked out, I, you know, I’m up there, my knees are shaking and I’m like, Oh, really nervous and I knock on the door. The woman opens it realises who we are and slams the door in my face. And that was really like, it was also another eye-opening moment where you start to question like, what is it? But at that time, it’s just, you know, this piece that they justify by saying God’s chosen people will be persecuted. And it’s like, Look, see, it’s evidence that we are God’s chosen people because we’re being persecuted. It’s not having the fortitude and I mean, now I look out and I’m like, Well, of course, you’re persecuted call on people at nine o’clock on a Saturday after they’re hungover from a Friday night and drinking, Of course, they’re gonna be mad. You bug people enough, they’re gonna get mad at you. But you don’t see that when you’re in it.
Yeah, interestingly here in Spain, the door knocking is prohibited. People are not allowed to. So here, the Jehovah’s Witnesses will stand on the street with a store with a little stand with all their Watchtower magazines or whatever. Yeah, well, that now here and in Spanish here, of course, and they’ll be in groups of at least two or three. And you’ll see them all over the city really interesting because they’re not allowed to go door-knocking anymore. I think it was maybe regarded as too intrusive, and that it was a nuisance to people rather than any kind of benefit. So they’ve been stopped from doing it, which is quite a big restriction. I know I’m sure I must have had quite a significant impact on them because as you mentioned, they’re also not allowed to approach people in The street if it’s okay people go and speak to them and ask them but they can’t actually go up to people and witness or whatever they want whatever they call it. And that anything that’s the same in the UK and I’m sure it’s not the same in the US as well, but it would certainly be interesting if those kinds of laws were brought in other places too. But this is one of the things about it. I don’t personally understand what attracts people to those kinds of organisations and if they’re not already searching for something like that in the first place, or feeling that their life is empty and lacking a meaning that you grew up with that what do you think it was that kept you there?
Uh, well, just being you know, it’s a roof over my head is with my dad. He was very strict. And so it was my way or the highway like, as long as you’re under my roof, you’ll have to you have to keep going to come back to the PC. So why do people why do people Go. Why do people join? So of course, I got to see over the years a number of people who ended up coming into the religion and consistently and this is what they talk about consistently. They are looking for the lost sheep. And this is true of all cults they look and prey on people who are in a weak spot or who are vulnerable who are down. I remember this one couple that he did that my parents brought into the religion and they were new immigrants. So didn’t have a lot of friends didn’t have community, were really missing that sense of you know, connection and friendship and they struggled with the English language. And you know, they came in and of course, when you are brought in, you are welcomed. It’s It is a very family connection community. It’s very tight. You know, if there’s anything that goes wrong, they’re there. They’re there to help you can pick up the phone, and there’ll be meals, they’ll come and help you, they’ll give you money, you know, to help you pay your rent if you’re down, not continual support, but they really do support one another. So for people who are feeling, you know, lost and alone, these kinds of organisations and codes become very appealing because it feels that fills that need and of course, a sense of community and belonging is one of our core needs as humans, that’s really prey on
That makes it makes a lot of sense. And I think that is the case with probably most if not all religions, and even further than religions, any kind of groupings where people choose to identify themselves and have that in them and as kind of mentality we see that in politics you that you’ve been in business to some degree There are even business cult, so I’ve been made aware of was a bit of a surprise to me. That that is very much that case of wanting to be cohesive that the power of the community is really strong. Everyone feels like they want to belong somewhere. And if you want to belong in that kind of group you have to go by the rules and at least looked like you’re playing a good game even if you don’t wholly believe in it right? But for you as soon as you were able to get out from home was that it was like you started moving away from that. Oh, yeah,
yeah, I knew I knew at 16 so at 16 I tried going all in I got baptised so in that religion you choose if you’re going to get baptised Didn’t you have to be at least I think 14 set minimum age but anyway, so I got baptised I’m like, Okay, I’m gonna spend that summer and I went you know, did the full out door-knocking I don’t know, something like four or five times a week kind of thing. And I thought I’m just gonna dive right in and you know in and hang out with the, you know, the kids that are really into it. And by the end of the summer, that had been kind of locked in that it was like, No, I really don’t. So at that point, I started planning in looking at Okay, how do I get out? I needed to finish high school and you know, plan, plan my escape, so to speak. Now I did have my, my mother, to move into her place, which was another interesting extreme of what I grew up in. But having that plan in place of saying, Okay, I’m moving out, it wasn’t a matter of, you know, being torn at all. I knew I needed to go, I just, I couldn’t stay, I was probably going to kill myself if I stayed So, so,
yeah, pretty repressive kind of environment. And now I see parallels with my story, certainly around the age of 14 to 16. I was like yourself trying to get very deeply into the religion that I was a part of, and a lot of that was that the cognitive dissonance that was going on in my head trying to hold that idea until you told by lots of people were questioning his backsliding that’s doubting that’s a lack of faith and all these things that really were making me think that I wasn’t being a very good Christian and had to work harder at it. And then around the age of 60, and I actually got asked to leave the church that I was in certainly the membership of the church I was in. Because in a Bible study group, I had dared to question the biblical truth of Adam and Eve as literal people. And that it might have actually been biblical myth and metaphor. That was enough to for one of the elders of the church to get completely angry about that, and insist on the rest of the leadership that I will be removed from the membership. Wow, yeah, so seems like a crazy thing. But that was a lot. Well, at the time, I still believed in it, but not the way that they wanted me to believe in it, and asking questions that were causing some problems. So I was given a nudge on my way. And I know upset my parents and a few other people in that community. But for me, it was the push, I needed to say, well, maybe this isn’t really where I belong. And I explored other religions thinking that religion still had answers for me, and eventually found my way to something that didn’t revolve any religion or even particularly spirituality, but it took a long time. I know from my experience, not having been part of a sect, but it messed me up quite a lot. Psychologically, there was a lot to deal with a lot to overcome, especially having been a young gay boy having to deal with all that inside the church. I can only imagine it must have been probably 10 times worse for you in a religious cult.
Yeah, it’s one of those things that you know, when you’re moving forward, you don’t realise how much it takes you don’t realise how hard it is because this It’s normal, you know, leaving that was normal. Yes, I understood that it was hard. But I don’t I didn’t grasp it at that time. When I look back now I’m like, Oh my goodness, like, that took a lot to just leave because I left my family. I left all my extended family, which was the entire congregation. And I had lifetime friends in there. I had to just walk away from everybody in order to choose what was good for me. And that’s the thing is, is, you know, to look at that now and think, wow, that’s some real good gumption on my part of that age to just walk away from everything. And I think the process of rewiring my brain over the years deprogramming myself has been rocky because I think at that time like we’re going back 30 years more than 30 years. Oh dear boy. 30 years after Java too much.
So, you know, there were not the support groups, you couldn’t go on the internet and just like Google, you know, ex Jehovah’s Witness groups and get the support. And people didn’t understand a lot about the programming. I don’t even think they had identified Jehovah Witness as a cult at that point. So there was a lot that I had to kind of figure out on my own, and Bumble along and so it’s really I would say, it’s really only been the last 10 years that I’ve been able to dig in and say, Okay, these, these are the rules that I grew up with. This is the crazy programming Now, how do we change it and get into the actual computer system and change the coding?
Yeah, I don’t know about you, but I even now find the stuff that crops up that comes from all all of that. And I think anything that you’ve been, to a degree programmed with as a child is probably going to Staying with you forever really,
to some degree I mean there are definitely things that you can do to manage it and actually say, but we’ve cropping back up again, of course, this pandemic has triggered for me flashbacks of the whole, you know, this constant fear of Armageddon, the fear of you know, the end of the day. And so, yeah, it was reading Steve Hassan’s blogs that that brought that I’m like, Oh my goodness, no wonder. So, you know, moving through that is been another layer another, you know, different aspect of it.
Right. I mean, Steve Hassan is interesting because he really does work. His mission is helping people to deprogram themselves he was eating ground, from the sense that people might have an understanding of what deprogramming was in some of the movies from around the 80s and 90s where kidnapping people out of the cult and, and kind of force them to face up to reality and he is very clear that he doesn’t think that that was actually a good way when it did work for him. But he didn’t think it was a psychologically good way to rip people out of that. But he was more in the education and empowering people to understand what they’re a part of and step out of that. But what makes it particularly interesting because I think you’re right, a lot of people don’t even know what a cult really is, or what makes something a cult. So what’s the difference between a religion and a cult? I didn’t know that for the longest time, I thought were really no, the religions been around longer, and it has more people. I thought that was the bigger difference. But there are so many more things. And I know Steve, Hassan isn’t the only person who has that kind of insight and information. But what he lays out in the bite model, which is like the behaviour control, the information control, thought control and the emotional control, all of that stuff, you can see it and he says no, the more of those things that from that model that you see. Then the more of a cult. It is So, you know, you said yours was a softer cult than some of the others his cult was the Moonies cult, which people probably think that have more of that association with what cults are actually like. And you see more of those elements of the bite model within there. What were perhaps some of the most obvious ones for you now that you’ve come across his work, and that the bite model, what are some of the big elements for you or for kind of control methods that you saw?
Segregation is a really big one. So keeping it very insular, you’re only allowed to associate with people within the organisation that creates a very, you know, that insular community you’re only you’re and the and the language, language is a really big one. So having your inside verbiage slang, you know, everybody’s got the lingo that they had the talk. And so that’s a way of actually segregating even within a lot of self-help. programmes there’s very much you don’t call it like stuff going on within those that’s a whole nother rant got sucked into one of those too. So you know those pieces having their own they have their own version of the Bible. And it’s you know, it’s twisted to fit what they want they you know, you’re discouraged from reading material outside of what they provide. It’s all about that control of where are you finding your information, the control in how many times a week you are supposed to be associating with each other. And, and you know, where you move how you move. The other thing that drives me crazy is the money aspect of it. Like this concept, and religion, in general, is really bad for imprinting people with this idea that, you know, don’t have too much. Okay, could you put $1 amount on that? Could you know, is it 30? Is it 50 is 100 How much is too much?
At least as much as Trump
Right. So there’s always this vague sense of I’m doing it wrong. Yeah, I’m coming in there. And so when you’re in, and really, it’s just that piece of brainwashing where you’re told something over and over and over again. The brain takes that in as being true.
Yeah, I can understand how the Joel Osteens and Joyce Meyers of this world is so appealing to people when they are you can have it or you can have all this money and you can have, we can be as rich as you want. And that’s very attractive to a lot of Christians who are thinking or people who want to at least think that Christians think, Okay, well, the church was said, You’re not supposed to have money. You’re not supposed to be rich. And he’s saying, No, God wants you to be rich. But once you have all of this, and is a cult in a different kind of way, maybe not so strong as a lot of other things, but it is near another variation on the theme and how that appeal, I think for a lot of people and crosses into a lot of personal development stuff as well, I find which, which disturbs me a little bit sometimes. However, that’s not so much what we’re here for today. But I am interested I read I was recommended a book not too long ago, and you may have come across it. It’s Tara Westover, his book Educated. Have you seen that coming? Yeah. So it’s on the bestsellers list, I think still at the moment, and she grew up in a Mormon, strict Mormon cult, and had to essentially educate herself and some of her family as well. And this is really about some of the problems that she hasn’t experienced growing up in that that they lived in the sticks. You know, they weren’t in a place where realised that anything was particularly abnormal until things got a bit older and she was able eventually to Educate herself but she talks about the whole journey of having to come out of that and how all the resistance that she encountered herself. I know with Jehovah’s Witnesses from limited experience and contact that I’ve had with that particular organisation, that the shunning part of it there, pushing people out of the community is a big part. And that’s the part of the control thing. You know, exile was the ultimate punishment. Right. And so what happened for you when you started to come out of it? Was that your experience as well?
Oh, absolutely. It was, yeah, everybody has varying degrees. They’ve used up the amount of that kind of XL torture, so to speak. So might when my mom left they chased her down, like physically chased her corner her like it was just it was really bad for me. I moved out And I just made myself unavailable. So they tried calling me but I just wouldn’t take the calls. I took one call. And they said some things they like we’d like to sit down, have a meeting with you, you know, come to them, like, really? I’m going to come back there. I know what happens. You know, you’re Oh, great. So here I am an 18-year-old girl, I’m going to sit down in a room full of eight to 10 old white men. And you’re going to ask me about my sex life? No, I don’t think so. That’s not okay. Like it’s just, it’s harassment. Like at the beginning, they harass you to try to get you to come back. And then they shun you and get everybody to not talk to you as a pressure to get you to come back. And for some people, it that works that that sense of like, Oh my god, I like I’ve just lost everything I need to get back to these people. And so they’ll come back and they’ll do their Penance and they’ll you know, they just like, you know, almost like kiss everybody’s ass to try To get back, and it’s crazy, it’s absolutely crazy-making like, they really do a lot to make you feel like you are insane and that you need them. And, and that’s where it really kind of goes really wonky.
It gets a bit more than that though, doesn’t it? I dated a guy who, his family, Jehovah’s Witnesses and he grew up with that as well. And he had no experience in the dating world. I mean, he was a virgin and everything when we first met, and I remember how challenging that was for him because he was going through the process of coming out to his family. And this was also around the time that his older brother and his wife had just had their first child and they cut him off. Yeah, they just pushed him out completely. And it was the thing of even his mother was contacting him secretly, his father was contacting him secretly, because they didn’t want each other to know that the content and because if it got back to the chairs, if one of the other reports that they too would be kicked out, they would be shunned as well, you weren’t allowed to have any kind of contact with someone who’s been shunned from, from the church. He never got to see his nieces or nephews, I don’t even remember what they were. And we didn’t date for all that long, but we eventually lost touch. And this is kind of interesting because it’s only just recently that I was on social media. And I saw a picture of a guy who was connected to him through someone else. So it was really very random. And it was a wedding photo of him and his late husband, the guy who would pan out killed himself. Oh, that looks just like my ex. And it looks a lot like him. And then I did a bit of digging and found out that two years before he had actually ended his life, wow. and ended up contacting his husband, his widow, and finding out as so delicately as I could what had happened and saying, Hey, you know, I used to date this guy. And, you know, we’d lost touch. And I was really sad to see this. And he said, essentially, it was that he’d never really gotten over all the stuff that had gone on with his family. But that was what had led him to that stage of ending his life, which, to me is horrific. I know, it’s tough. But I also know he was a sensitive guy, very caring, sensitive guy, and just have deeply that that has hurt him as much as he tried to normalise his life and deal with it and move on from it. But that was still a bad shattering over everything. So we can’t really underestimate just how damaging and harmful these kinds of societies can be. That, for me, was a horrible realisation you know, I knew he’d been messed up with that. And I was angry enough about that. But then to find out that it actually over time led him to take his own life that was absolutely heartbreaking. Yeah, but not unique.
Unfortunately, it’s really not. And I know, you know, from watching people over the years, people that I know, that leave, you know, they often end up in really bad situations, alcoholism, drug addiction, you know, in and out of bad marriages, I’ve seen some that are in and out of prison, that kind of thing runs quite rapid because they don’t have the skills and they don’t necessarily reach out for help because they’ve just come out of a cold. And so reaching out to something else for help seems a little scary and dangerous as well. So it’s really it is really sad, but, you know, hopefully, these days People coming out realise that there are way more resources available right there are more support structures now as I’ve seen, I’ve seen some of them what were the things that helped you most of all in dealing with this and recovering your life is it well, you know, I was in therapy right from the get-go. So I started out because I also had sexual abuse that had happened.
So I started going down that path of healing for that and that took me into various forms of counselling and therapy, and I and I kept looking, I’m like, there’s got to be something else. There’s got to be something else. You know, I see people out there who are happy. I would like to have that. How do I get on? So I tried, you know, groups get therapy, traditional counselling, psychotherapy. I went for ACA I even tried a for a while I thought maybe I’m an alcoholic because I was triggered. Quite a bit and you know went through all of those different things and then kept just kept trying to find I started looking at self help you know came across things like the EFT the Emotional Freedom Technique, tapping, you know that Tony Robbins stuff, you know, I dug into everything I was just constantly there’s got to be something I had this strange just draw that it was like there’s got to be something, there’s got to be something more than this. And so I just kept looking. And for me, the kink world was was really the big turning point. And I know we talked about this in the last episode, that was really the big turning point that unlocked some of those pieces from my body. And then from there, I was able to get traction with the other tools. And it’s just been snowballing and the tools that I have now are, you know, 100 times more effective than what we started with. So it’s that intrinsic motivation to want to find Something else it’d be constantly looking and asking questions.
Yeah. That’s, that’s fascinating. And it’s got me thinking along the lines of, again paralleling my own experience of that. But the hardest part for me, not in really in just overcoming that, but in growing up and finding myself was dealing with the shame aspect of things that I felt ashamed of who I was, I felt ashamed particularly of my sexuality, my thoughts about other guys and thinking that was been told for so many years. It’s not normal. It’s not natural. God doesn’t like it all this kind of stuff to hell for that. And that was a really, really hard thing to deal with. And even not just within the religion, I mean, for me at that age, and in the media, gay people were very vilified, particularly in the UK. I don’t really know what the US or Canadian press for life at that time, but I don’t think it was particularly positive either but The UK tabloids especially were hateful, absolutely hateful about gay people.
And so there’s a, there was a real fear that you knew that if people realised who you were and what you’re about that you wouldn’t just be Sunday, no one would come near you is like you were an absolute pariah in society. You may as well have been a leper in walking through the streets, no one would come near you. At least that’s what it felt like and that the communities that did exist were made to look so… to know what the right word is. They were made to look so depraved and so below where everyone else was that you wouldn’t want to be a part of that. How could you want to associate with them and this concept of that you could never be happy if that was the life that you chose for yourself. I can’t choose that for myself. I can’t never be happy. And I think the same thing isn’t exclusive to anyone who has issues. With their sexuality but I can well imagine how getting into something like the kink community could have helped to transform your own feelings and experience around sexuality and even just the back of self in general.
Yeah, it is a really great space to spend a bit of time in and then leave if to my opinion, because you know that first bit where you go in and you see people exploring really, you know, all kinds of different things, you know, you’ve got, you’ve got somebody who, you know, wears kitty cat ears and a tail all the time, like all 24 seven and then you know, there are other people who are, you know, the corsets are their thing and so they just, you know, they’re but you see people that are just expressing themselves, expressing what they love to do, being able to get information from them of why do you love Why is this you know, and for the most part, there is a fairly safe space for, you know, your kink is your kink and whatever you’re into is your kink, you know, I don’t have to, as my friend calls it ‘Ick your wow’, if that’s your thing. So it’s there’s real freedom in that, that you don’t necessarily get in other places. But I think,
again, this kind of community again, I mean, it is a community. You’re not being judged negatively as well.
Well, I hopefully you’re not being judged negatively. You know, that wasn’t always true. But yeah. But there’s there is a general consensus, especially when I got into it, there was, you know, there was kind of a community there were people that had been in for a long time. And so they kind of mentored others to, you know, make some space and create an opening that is like, Oh, well, rather than being shunning the other people like ask them, find out Like, what is that? What? Why do you like it? What, what works for you? So, so that’s very fascinating.
What’s interested me particularly about cults is that very often people think that they would never fall for it, they would never be brought into it that I would never believe. And I wouldn’t become wouldn’t ever become a Hare Krishna or a Jehovah’s Witness or whatever. And they don’t realise how these organisations go about recruiting people that it’s so clever. It’s more than just knocking on the doors, which you know, is what most people probably do slam the door, although I can remember as a young Christian lad who was convicted of my beliefs, trying to convert the Jehovah’s Witness while they’re trying to convert me on the doorstep, which was all very civilised, everything but now as I look back, okay, that was a bit weird, really. But I do think that people do. One of the things that makes people susceptible is thinking that they are being threatened that they would never fall for something like that are pulled into it. What do you know about some of the techniques that people use to bring people in?
And what was the Jehovah Witness in particular, I know that they’re really looking for the people who are easy to convert, they’re looking for those that are already feeling lost already feeling. You know, they’ve had a death they’ve they’ve had, you know, so there’s something leaving them susceptible, they’re not going to go after the person who’s really like, they would never go off to somebody like me at this point, you know, it’s like, I’m good or, or the person or you even, you know, trying to convince them of your religion. That’s not who they’re going to be continually knocking on the door. But basically, the technique is really um, one of wearing the person down. So if you continually knock on somebody’s door, and you continue to talk to them a little bit. And so to go back to this example, I can think of that couple that, you know, they were new immigrants. And you know, so the first contact, there’s, you know, there’s a little bit of communication, you know, hey, there’s somebody knocking at the door. They, of course, live out in the country in this old schoolhouses, great schoolhouse. And so they’re a little bit isolated. So now Oh, look, there’s somebody to talk to. And so the conversation starts and then you start visiting them once a week, which is starts that sense of community, and then you start having Bible studies with them. So before they’re even invited to the church, you’re indoctrinating them before you bring them into the fold. And in that process, you know, what’s happening behind the scenes is of course, that you’re checking out if they’re going to be a good fit. And you know, if they’re, you know, they’re receptive to the ideas and receptive to the ideas, and I think the Bible study part of it goes on for at least three months, maybe six months. It’s quite a long process then they’re invited into the church now at this point, they feel special because they’ve passed the test. Okay and here’s the thing with the dark psychology once you’ve had somebody go over some hoops to get into something if it’s been a bit difficult, there are more reluctant to get out. So even if once you’re in you kind of go, I don’t know. Then you start assessing like well, maybe it’s not so bad. And that cognitive dissonance kicks in where it’s like well, you know, it’s not that bad or you reason it’s like there’s more good than bad and you know, nothing is perfect and you reason with yourself to stay. And that’s really the big thing is they have that long process to get them into the actual church. Then they get to meet everybody else and now they’re welcomed in as one of the fold. Suddenly you feel special and we saw that I don’t know if you saw the Waco movie or the Netflix special.
I remember the Waco event
The Netflix special is actually pretty good in that, especially when you watch that piece because there’s one person that gets taken in, and it’s that same kind of thing, making him feel special, having him feel part of the community. And then he gets to a certain point where it’s like, okay, you can’t just visit his sister, we can’t just visit, you have to be all in or all out. And it’s at that moment when they’ve had a taste of that community in those early days before they really start questioning things. Then you get that commitment. You’re all in or you’re all out. And I think that’s very similar for most of the call is some variation of that.
Yeah. And, again, I come to Steve Hassan who talks about that the cult that he joined I think they used attractive young girls to help pull in young impressionable lads like himself, right, which Yeah, you’re gonna student at the time, but also particularly, he did talk in his book about how They will sometimes target quite intelligent people even be we think well wouldn’t go off to someone who’s kind of intelligent? Well, some of them will, because it’s a real big win for them. Nicole is someone who is regarded as well known or intelligent. I mean, look at Scientology, for example, psychology big for that. Yeah, a very, very strong example of that. And, and also one of those organisations that because it has such a foothold in the entertainment industry, you know, I’ve known people who’ve been trying to make it in that industry who have ended up on the fringes or getting into Scientology, because of the opportunities that that organisation can end up leading them into, but in the meantime, you still have to, even if you tell yourself, you’re just going through the motions, you’re still being indoctrinated, you’re still doing it you’re still complying with that kind of behaviour in that camp. No matter how strong you are, it’s going to have an effect is going to seep in In some ways, you say maybe stop rationalising and think actually, it’s not so bad, and I can deal with it. And Halo can do a lot for me, we have a good word for me, let’s go a bit deeper with this. Those are all these sort of inroads that are possible for you to get, especially if you’re surrounded by a tonne of other people who believe in the same things, or at least appear to believe the same things because no one’s gonna express any dissent in public in the group because it doesn’t well that’s it
right? If everybody is saying the same thing, you’re like, well, I can’t question this. I don’t want to be the only one. I mean, there’s been lots of scientific studies to show that nobody wants to be the only one to stand out against you know, whatever it is, even if it’s blatantly wrong. Nobody wants to be that only one. But as soon as there’s one other person, then people can can rally behind it starts to speak out. So you’re asking about that, you know, the people that are intelligent, it’s going to say that we all have moments where we are emotionally more sensitive, you know, down and vulnerable. And no matter how intelligent or wealthy or successful any of those things we can, we can all have times in our lives, where we feel like we need community where we feel like we need support. And if we don’t have that, that’s what also makes us vulnerable.
I think one thing that could be interesting is that people may be listening to this who have some relatives or maybe even have some associations with these kinds of organisations themselves and feel they don’t see anything too bad about it. And, you know, in those circumstances, I would encourage people to check out the past, or really just to go back and listen to, to what you’ve been saying about your experience. One of the things people should maybe watch out for most or question most doing, at least for themselves, to start getting maybe, at least just a bigger picture of where they’re at.
Um, I think if you’re involved with any kind of religion, organisation business, you know, Association, all those kinds of things start to look at how much are they willing to embrace others? How much are they willing to say, Okay, this is what we like. And you know, they’re okay if they like something else. It doesn’t make them wrong. The moment that any, you know, system organisation business makes everything else wrong in them, right? That’s a big red flag for me. And I see this in personal development worlds. I see this in businesses and in businesses love to create a cult environment, a culture, you know, you look at Click Funnels, Click Funnels as a culture, like it’s a cult. I mean, he says it it’s a decreasing culture. It is a cult following. Like, there is that aspect Because they get in there and then it’s like, this is the only thing is right and, and everything else is wrong and just you have to just be doing, you’re just, you know, one funnel away from two commas. Like, there’s all this kind of Mind Control stuff. So I would say, are they inclusive? Do they say okay, this is I love this, but if you’re doing something different, you know, fill your boots, if not start to have some questioning thoughts about it.
Yeah. What sort of resources are you aware of now but it might be helpful for anyone who’s had similar experiences to yourself.
Um, you know, there are a lot of support groups now. There’s there are free groups just like we’ve got al-anon and ACA there are support groups for people leaving and it can be cult specific. So I know that there are Jehovah’s Witness support groups that are available. Some of them are online. Some of them are in person. Go for a little time period, just to know that you’re not alone. You weren’t crazy, and then get out because those become an insular kind of substitute of the cult as well. But you know, that’s a good place to start and then seek out a good therapist or coach that works with people who, you know, understand programming and how cults work and how they operate and how to deprogram in a way that is safe and effective. Because just going in and ripping things out is not necessarily either sane or effective. It’s not kind.
Yeah, and I think that’s a really important point no, for whether it’s a cult or any, any kind of community-led organisation where you’ve been an integral part of that without much on the outside. If you just rip that one away, and you don’t have any kind of support structure. And besides that, you’re going to feel very lost and we need some kind of rank, but also your right not to replace one coat with another to go for something a bit more balanced. Now I just recently put out an article about what I see is the cult of positivity in personal development.
I just read that before we get on.
Yeah, and I think it’s, I think it’s very significant that there is levels of thought control. And that’s really what we’re talking about people who are trying to tell you what to think. And I’m very big on critical thinking actually helping people to think for themselves to have their own thoughts. I don’t think anybody has all the answers. I think we should take things and question them and test them out and see what really is true, at least for us and, and, and investigate things a bit more deeply and not just take other people’s words for and I do think there’s a lot of great resources around critical thinking and cognitive bias that people would do well to know. And I would love to see taught in schools as well, because I think I’ve found to open to these things, not just in terms of religion, but in politics, media and everywhere.
Doing all of those things. I mean, they all employ a type of brainwashing
and unseen influences
Yeah. The greatest example I think the greatest example is, you remember the Swiffer when Swiffer first came out in early 1990s? And I’ll never forget this because it was just it was on every single channel, every single commercial. It was his first commercial last commercial. It was like just bombarded you until finally, you catch it. I would catch myself. I’m like, Oh, I think I need a Swiffer. And I’m like, Yes. But because they did that massive, massive inundation that is very directly brainwashing through just constant bombardment.
Yeah. TV commercials essentially are there because they’re not there to generally make you aware of a product they’re there to have you have their product at top of mind so that if you think about soda or soft drink you’re gonna think Coca Cola if you think about product placement something you can change Are you going to think about Wrigley’s? If you think about cleaning products you’re gonna think about Mr Clean or something like that, you know, there’s that’s what they want. They want to be top of mind and people works and it works. And they get injured and it really does is some degree an invasion of your conscious mind? Because they’re in there. I can still remember advertising jingles from when I was a small child. That stuff stays in your head. It’s very clever.
Yes, very clever. Yeah.
It is interesting. There’s so much out there. And I remember finding a book called mind-control marketing by Mark Joyner if you’ve ever come across him And he’s an interesting guy and the book, it was a bit of an eye-opener for me. But it led me to other resources as well that I found interesting Robert Cialdini, his book on influence, which is critical reading for anybody, in my opinion. And there’s this whole hidden world of influence that most people have no idea is there, how it’s affecting them how things are interacting, that most of us are running on automatic and not even realising it and stopping to question it. And if there’s one thing that I care about, probably important, just about anything else, is getting people to stop and ask them questions and check things for themselves find out what’s really true for them. And some sometimes they get a bit stronger. Maybe put might push people away a bit, but I really love questioning mentality and I get a bit concerned when people don’t have that and when they’re not actually questioning things. But it is Germany what we get conditioned to now I don’t take up your whole day here. So so we wrap things up a little bit and I know the council probably wants to attend. So let’s start to wrap things up. We talked about some of the resources that are available to people. I also think it’s important to address how we treat people who may be part of these groups as well because now that they’re kidnapping them and deprogram them that isn’t necessarily the best way forward and scorning them in some those on the faces also may not be the best way. What do you think is the best way to interact with three people who are that may be involved in these sorts of cults or have some sort of association with them?
So if you want to influence somebody to get out of what you think is a cult, I would really invite you to think in terms of what is your long term game, and it is not an instant you can’t go to somebody and say oh, you’re part of a cult you should get out. Because the first thing that’s going to happen is people are going to do push back, they’re not going to want to think that they’re part of a cult, even if they are. And so I would suggest this piece of always dropping tiny little questions. So it’s not the big questions. It’s just tiny, little questions. So when they tell you about something that’s going on, if you can, you can reflect it back to them and say, Oh, you know, use their, their language, the last three words of what they say and say, Oh, you know, you’re doing that, you know, just this, this question and let them you know, expand on it, and dropping in like, wow, I don’t understand how that works. Because that’s, you know, this is, you know, this doesn’t line up with this and leaving them tiny little thoughts. So, you know, if we use the example that you have witnesses, it’s like, oh, you know, Armageddon is coming, and then we’re all going to be janitors for the next thousand years. Is that what you’re saying? Like But you have to just leave them one jarring piece for them to chew on. And it’s going to take possibly three years of doing these tiny little disruptions into their universe to get them to think about it. People are not going to be open to you just saying you’re part of the call, you should get out you’re being stupid because that’s gonna flare up all the cognitive distance and they’re gonna have to push back on you.
Yeah, I often think that similar kind of thing with religion. I know when I left religion in general that, that I tended to think that religious people were somehow stupid, sometime around. So hey, I believe this stuff was like, do I think I was stupid either. And I also know plenty of very intelligent people who have all sorts of beliefs that okay, well, maybe I need to learn to be a bit more respectful to people’s beliefs, but also, that you can ask questions if they’re able To the one thing I’ve generally discovered is you can’t help you can’t get an inroad someone if they don’t even want to have that discussion. However, if someone is trying to get you on board with their religion, you have every right to be asking them questions in return as well. Because…
yeah, yeah, you’ve gonna pick your battles and, and keep it small because I remember my sister questioning me one time. So I was involved in a personal development programme thing that, you know, became rather called, like, further up, you go in, it gets a little crazy. And at one point, my sister said, you know, it’s kind of starting to sound like a cult. And that’s all she said. And honestly, that niggled in the back of my brain. And then I started, you know, researching, and at that time, it was like, you know, I found all kinds of articles saying it’s a cult, it’s a cult, it’s called, and I’m like, oh, they’re just, they’re just mad because of, you know, blah, blah. But it stuck with me. And so when I started seeing things that showed signs of It being like that, that that little implant. And this is what I’m saying is like if you have somebody don’t discount the impact that that one question can make in somebody’s life,
plant the seeds? Absolutely I have I’ve heard stories from people before saying that there was someone who had said something to them maybe even 10 years before they had planted the seed that eventually led to them coming out of that particular belief system moving into something else, but the seeds have been planted that you might not see the results of the seed for the tree that you plant, but it will grow hopefully in the minds of the base where you planted it. And I do think it’s important to treat people with kindness and recognise that unless someone is trying to force their beliefs on you, for whatever reason we’re getting into Handmaid’s Tale territory and but then he is not a war. It’s, it isn’t an idea, a war of ideas to some degree, but the bigger wars going to be going on inside people’s heads with the cognitive dissonance. And that’s what they’re going to have to work out try and be kind to be recognised. It’s not because they’re stupid, it may just be because they’ve been misled. And it may just be because they haven’t really questioned things in that way before they’ve been busy. But in the community, where that’s all you hear, just to be a bit, kind of, and I think that’s a great idea. Just see if you can plant a little seed saving, get some opening that leaves something with them for them to go away and think about, but your job isn’t to take stripped them of their belief right then and there and pull it away from them. But if they want to engage a bit further in that you might be able to go a bit further with them and ask them some more questions. And let them ask you questions as well. And respect, where it can be bought in, is going to be a very useful tool to actually engage a bit more critical thinking And that’s what we’re going for, ultimately to help people engage their minds a bit more and see things for more of what they really are, rather than what they’ve been told they are. Yeah, let’s, let’s wrap things up there then. But it’s been a really interesting conversation. I’m so happy that you came and shared your experience of this weathers as well. I’m going to put links to some of the resources that we talked about in the show notes for this so people can go and check those out for themselves. Are there any other books or resources that you wanted to mention as we wrap things up?
my brains not clicking, but I can probably send you an email and see but get some pieces in there.
we’ll make sure that that all goes in as well. Thank you so much for your time. Once again, I really enjoyed the discussion and we’ll continue to stay in contact with you. I mean, you’re an incredible person and it’s been one hell of a journey. Right.
Thanks, John. I really do enjoy these conversations with you as well as you are a delight.
Thank you so much.
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