…I discovered really early on that people who had really good story got people’s attention.
…I discovered really early on that people who had really good story got people’s attention.
The Davies Method consists of candid, clear communication aimed at achieving calm through empathetically addressing issues and consistently communicating progress towards resolution.
Takeaways and Teachable Moments
TELL AN AUTHENTIC STORY OF WHY YOU’RE DOING WHAT YOU’RE DOING.
SHOW COMPASSION AND EMPATHY BECAUSE PEOPLE WILL NOT LISTEN TO YOU UNTIL THEY KNOW HOW MUCH YOU CARE.
TAKE THE BLAME IN A HIGH OUTRAGE AND HIGH HAZARD CRISIS.
LOOK AT PEOPLES’ PAIN AND THEIR GOALS, AND THEN DECIDE HOW TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM.
BRING MEANING AND EMPATHY THROUGH STORY, RATHER THAN PRESENTING MORE INFORMATION.
Follow along as John Davies lays out steps for identifying potential crises, and how to plan ahead for these crises. John walks you through the power of telling your story in order to empathetically connect with your audience. Once they know who you are, and your reasons for doing what you’re doing, they are primed to listen to your message.
John has spent years managing crises, both internal and external. His skill at guiding people and organizations through crisis situations has been developed through countless real-world scenarios. Every step in the Davies Method has been proven effective. The sixth episode of this series will reveal why John's clients immediately reach for his number when a crisis arises.
Crisis Happens: The Power of Why
Mark: We’re listening to episode six of crisis communications with John Davies. I’m Mark Sylvester. Now let’s get started and talk with John. I want to talk about the power of why. And we teased this at the end of the last show. And for the last several years, I think, as popularized by the number one or number two TED Talk by Simon Sinek on how great leaders manage, which was all about the why. But I seem to remember you called it something else. What did you call it?
John: Our origins as a company was we would do PR marketing, and then we do political campaigns.
John: So in the political campaigns, what I discovered really early on ... so this is when I was very, very young, like 20 years ago.
John: That people who had a really good story got people's attention.
Mark: Yeah, yeah.
John: And it was a why, but I used to call it what was your flash of light? And I would ask candidates, so why are you running? Well, I've always been one that's worried about street cleaning. I worry about taxes are too high. Or I don't think the baseball fields are taken care of. I'm like, "Really? Is that why you're running? Is that really why you're running? What is it that makes you even want to be in public service?" So I was looking for their flash of light.
Mark: Their why, yeah. The flash.
John: What flash was it that got them involved? And so amazing stories, life-changing stories for them. One of them was the mayor of a small town, small city in California. Met him. He'd run for council. He'd been on to mayor. He had a really ugly election. Brought me in. And I sat with him, and we talked, and we were talking about something, some campaign contribution limit. And he said, "My constitutional rights have been taken away from me once. It'll never be again. I have the right to give and take as much money as I want, and I'm not signing any agreement." I go, "What do you mean?" And he said, "Well, as a Japanese American, I was interned in World War II. And I was a freshman at UCLA, and my mom called and said, 'You need to pack up and leave. We're going to Gila Bend, Arizona.'" And that was his flash of light for the rest of his life. And we started telling that story to share who he really was.
Mark: Changed everything.
John: Yeah. He was a Wharton MBA, and a mayor of this little town, and family grocery store. But it changed how people looked at him. He was featured in David Brinkley's book, The Greatest Generation. He went to Japan on a regular basis. It was a life changer that we talked about it. And so when you're trying to deal with a crisis ... if we go back, we dial back a few episodes, which I don't remember. They all blur behind me and in front of me.
Mark: You've been doing this for years.
John: We talked about we have to make the tiger go away.
Mark: Yes, yes.
John: That tiger wandering. And how we make a tiger go away is a message. And so all this stuff ... go get the books on crisis. There're great checklists. Use theirs, use mine. But if you're going to go through this with me, two things you got to take away. Know what you're managing, learn how to do a message, and learn how to do a message that is powerful and makes the tiger go away. And so to have a powerful message is to have an authentic story of your purpose, and a purpose of what you're doing and how you're doing it, so people understand you. And that is either your flash of light or it's your story of why. And so if we're going to read Start with Why, you also need to read How We Decide. And I think, Mark, I passed that book on to you once. There will be a test.
Mark: By Jonah Lehrer.
John: Jonah Lehrer. Yeah. And it looks like the easiest, sweetest book. It has three ice cream cones in different flavors on the cover. And it's so good, and it's so deep. Read carefully and slowly. But it's equally as good as Bob Cialdini's Influence when you get into it. So I suggest, if you want to be good at this, you start doing that.
Mark: So what we've heard, it feels like we've been telling stories for 100,000 years, and we've only had language for 20,000 years. So stories have been around. They're in our DNA. And story, brand stories, all of that, have gotten popular again. They're popular.
John: Yeah. We all talk about stories. That sort of makes me happy now, because people don't look at me.
Mark: We don't have to sell it. Right. Yeah.
John: I don't look like I'm crazy when I say "your story." I was at a meeting on the nonprofit board, and they're like, "We have to tell a story." And I'm like, "Oh, this is so good." It's not me anymore.
Mark: It's like they'll say, "Well, what are we doing?" You and I had this conversation the other day. What should the person say? I said, "Start with a story." And you go, "Yep. Exactly."
Mark: So tell me, though, when I'm in front of ... we talked about that angry crowd where I want to listen. So that's the wrong place to tell a story.
John: Exactly, exactly. Well, except when you get to the end. And if they say, "Well," and you say, "There's what I get." And they're like, "Okay." You have an opportunity there, if the audience is compliant, they're settled, they're not throwing things at you. They vented. They still have more they could give you, but they're pretty ready to see if you have a heart.
Mark: Got it. Got it.
John: Tell your story.
Mark: So when we look at what the common traits are in the stories, what can we learn from this model?
John: Well, common traits of the stories is it's got to be authentic, and it's got to answer why you're doing it.
John: The interesting thing, I study political campaigns still. Presidential campaigns are just so instructive to how we communicate and what we do. And if you look back, and if you look at Al Gore.
John: And you're like, "What happened? How could Al Gore not get elected? How could he not run away?" We're at peace. That's the last time we didn't have a war going on somewhere. We'd overcome the deficit where it had a positive, and he's the vice president of the guy. And the only problem with that administration was personal habits and some personal horrible mistakes. That wasn't something bad. And he couldn't get a message out.
But then five years later, maybe even less, he changes the world. We talk about his issue all the time.
Mark: Yeah, we do.
John: And so let's be clear that I'm not stating that I'm a Al Gore lover or a ... my political positions are opposite.
Mark: This is a case study.
John: This is pure case study.
John: So what was missing when he ran for office? He didn't have a powerful why. He didn't have his emotion behind him. And people can read that. If you watched the debates with him and George W. Bush, you're like, "Wow, he's just not into this." Then you watch him speaking about climate change and global warming, he is so passionate.
Mark: So that was the word I was looking for was passionate.
Mark: If someone wants to go look up the Tony Robbins TED Talk where Al Gore was in the third row, and Tony calls him out. And that was all recorded. And he said, "Had you shown the passion during the race ... that you did last night ..." it was the first time Inconvenient Truth was shown to a public audience, the slide deck which was the beginning of the movie.
John: Oh, wow. Right. Right.
Mark: And he said, "You would've won." And everybody went nuts. And it's directly what you're talking about.
John: Right. and so the other great story in there from political campaigns is Barack Obama in the primary against Hillary Clinton. Same story, same deal. What was it? He was amazing. When he spoke, he had a why. He had a flash of light. He had a story. And he said it in a really powerful way. And then when he got into the general election, it got even better. Because he started talking in the primary the night he won, basically, the nomination in June of 2008. He said, "This is our moment. This is our time. We can change the world." People were leaning forward. It wasn't just hope and change. Hope and change was a theme, but it was that deal that he had the ability to capture people's imagination that we could be better.
So last, I was just wondering, I heard that a new Dell computer came out the other day. Did you see the line out the store up and down the street? Oh, it's all over the place. And then the latest Android phone came out, the Galaxy 50,000. How do you explain Apple? Because they have this powerful message-
Mark: First trillion-dollar business on the planet.
John: Well, just this week ... we're dating the show ... but I'm hoping this can go on for like 40, 50 years. Now we're dating it. They'll be so many trillion-dollar businesses by the time people-
Mark: They were the first one.
John: Right. But the deal is, they have this powerful statement. They have something. They defy all assumptions. And you're not buying a phone. You're buying the whole story, the whole deal, with the promise of more and the promise ... So even in a crisis, you’ve got to deal with it. So one of the keys in a crisis is you got to educate people, right?
John: So I used to have the theme of we educate, and then we motivate.
John: I can't do that anymore.
John: Because it never worked before. I just used to say it that way. I'm sorry. I trapped you. It's not fair. No one's willing to listen to you until they know how much you care.
John: And so you have to motivate and show your compassion, your empathy, your sympathy. So you really motivate, then educate.
Mark: And that gets them receptive?
John: Exactly. So that's a key in your messaging. You got to motivate people before you go to the other side. And you got to start with what's the purpose of what you're doing? What's the purpose of the meeting? What's the purpose ... who are you?
Mark: Back to why.
John: Back to the why and back to a story. So I think the biggest thing is looking at the great communicators over history. Think about the list. I talked about one. Steve Jobs.
John: Martin Luther King.
Mark: Yep. MLK.
John: John Kennedy.
John: Ronald Reagan.
John: That's a motley crew to think about.
John: Yeah. All across political spectrums, ages, times in history.
John: So let's just ... Martin Luther King. So if you can, go to the Google machine, type in Martin Luther King, March of Washington, his speech, and watch it. Watch nonverbals. Listen to his words.
Mark: Watch it without the audio.
John: Watch it without the audio, and then turn the audio on when you see everything change. And what happened is his speech was written by a group who were trying to control. They knew he had to be the speaker, because he had the brand. But they wanted someone else, and they tried to control him. When he was reading their speech ... it was good ... he looked at the audience. He was a great speaker. He knew he didn't have them. He knew they weren't there. And so he goes back to a speech he had given a month or two before. And it was “I Have a Dream”. And when he does the “I Have a Dream” speech-
Mark: On the fly.
John: On the fly. You don't hear him. You feel him. It resonates. I've watched it probably hundreds and hundreds of times. And it's almost like I can feel his heartbeat. It's almost ... you look at the audience, and the fidgeting stops, and the eyes light up. The guy standing behind him, his eyes were wandering before that, and he had sort of a flat look to him. He's smiling.
Mark: So you're watching the nonverbals.
John: Yeah. It's like unbelievable. And in the crowd. They go to the crowd. Because he had a dream. He wanted to change the world.
Mark: So John, why is it, of all of the people, all of the public speakers, all of the leaders, all of the CEOs, the pundits, the talking heads, all of those people, we can make a list that doesn't even get one hand. We got four.
John: Well, there's a lot.
Mark: There's probably ... sure.
John: There's a lot of others. We all know a lot of others.
Mark: But it's not hundreds.
John: Jamie Dimon is a connector. There are other guys who are connectors and deal with it. And the deal is, we're trying to get people to listen and to reason, and reason without emotion is impotent.
John: And in fact, if you read How We Decide ... I think it was in there ... is that when you have an injury to the emotional parts of your brain, you can't make a decision. You can't make a decision to come back to the doctor's office for the next treatment.
Mark: So how do I-
John: So we need emotion.
Mark: But if I'm in a hard-facts situation, a refinery explosion, there's just hard facts. Now the outrage feels like that's my emotional barometer over there.
John: Yeah. So you got to tell a story. You got to be ... so what do they want to see? What do you want to see? What didn't we like about the guys from BP when they had the Gulf Spill? They had no emotion. They didn't have remorse. So I told you, when we're dealing with a crisis where there's high outrage and high hazard, you got to take the blame.
Mark: Active. Yeah. Right.
John: You got to say, "We have a problem. This is our fault. We have to take care of it." They were pointing fingers. They were complaining. They're complaining that people were upset. That's not empathizing, right?
John: So you got to jump to the other side. So how do you think we make decisions to not panic? Do you think when we're watching something, do you think we're making a rational decision?
Mark: No. It's all emotional. Absolutely.
John: So how do we get to the emotional side? What is it happen? What do we talk about? Oh yeah, that guy just makes good gut decisions, right? Good gut decisions. I've never seen someone's belly rationalize a decision. That's just insane. Gut decisions happen deep in our brain. And when they happen deep in our brain, things happen. And it's a part of our brain, and it's something that flows. So when we see something ... do you ever feel really good when someone's speaking, you got a good feeling about it? Well, you got dopamine flowing. So I started studying-
Mark: So we're back to science?
John: We're back to science. So go to the science book.
John: So when you look at all the old days when Blackberrys first came out.
What did they call them?
John: Crackberrys. And they were. Because when people got a message, they-
Mark: You got a little hit of dopamine.
John: Got to get a little hit of dopamine.
John: And so the deal is, what gets you a hit of dopamine? Because the purpose of dopamine is to make your brain pay attention to something, and that's important stuff. So it shoots off, and you're excited. So how do we get dopamine? Well, we get dopamine from emotion and stories. So the idea is how do we tell the story that tells the story? How do we have a line?
So think about George Patton standing in front of the big crowd. Remember? Remember from the movie?
Mark: Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
John: He's standing in front of this huge American flag, and he looks small. Image, country over man. He may be Patton, but the country is bigger than he is.
John: And he stood up to all these soldiers, and he said ... and I'm paraphrasing, if I don't have it right ... "Your job is not to go die for your country. Your job is to make the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country." That's it. That's the end of his speech. That's a pretty simple story. Look at all that. How do you figure that out? It's like that's your message, that's your emotion. So you've got to figure out how do you uncover your best story?
Mark: That was ... thank you. So if I do an inventory, so I'm leading this planning session, and we're figuring out okay, what stories are we going to have? And I'm going this inventory. You talked about the flash of light, that inspiration, that spark, that thing. So there's only one of those.
Mark: Or are there more of those?
John: There could be sub parts to it, yeah. Definitely.
John: It grows. It grows. And once you're connected to it, it can grow from the same thing. There's a lot of plays off. I had a candidate who was an OB/GYN, and he brought babies into life. His story was what happened to them? Do they have a job? Can they live here? He's got like 40 veins off that. And if you ever hear people talk about him, that was always the story.
Mark: So I've got a clarification question. When you're talking about story, is it the genesis story, the flash of light for the brand or the organization or the human that's representing? So it is the CEO? Because that CEO may not have been the founder. How do we ... help me unpack that bit.
John: Well, all stories are personal.
John: Corporations don't have personalities, but they can share why they work at that company and what drives it.
Mark: Okay, good. So that was the distinction I was looking for.
John: Right. And so I can go to a bunch of them, but we're playing with the football team thing. So the head of school, at the end of the second meeting, things turned. He gave his vision for the program and for the school, what our mission is.
Mark: Like the why. That's a why. That's a why story.
John: To the families. And they're all there, and they gave him hugs as they left.
John: Mission accomplished, right?
Mark: So this feels so obvious when you say it, and I think that's probably why we focus on why. Because as soon as you take a second to dig into it, why do you think brands or spokespeople are so reticent to go there?
John: Well, I don't think it's just brands or spokespersons. I think it's everyone. How many people have you met in your life that have an emotional story to tell you?
John: Out of 10, how many?
Mark: Yeah. Couple.
John: yeah. Well, that's the same with brands. So people don't want to tell you their emotional story. It's like you talk to someone that does, or you hear someone talk. I met so-and-so, and man, his story's amazing. What she's done and why she's doing it. You learn how to feel someone, their heart, who they are, more than you just hear them. It's hard. It's hard to tell your story. It's hard to be vulnerable. And then there's the lawyers, but we don't have to get into that.
Mark: Well, that's the second TED commandment is be vulnerable. Tell a story you've never told before and be vulnerable.
John: Exactly. Exactly. And being vulnerable is really, really, really hard.
Mark: It is. It's very hard. And-
John: And it's not saying, "Oh, by the way, I gave up smoking pot. Now I just do cocaine on Saturdays”
Mark: That's different.
John: Right. That's what people think.
Mark: That's confessionals.
John: Right. Exactly. But that's what people worry about. Being vulnerable is being human.
Mark: Yeah. I don't have all the answers.
John: I'm going to have them. I'm going to get them.
John: Don't have the answers right now. We're going to get them. I understand. I understand why you're scared. I understand why you're upset. I totally understand it.
Mark: You're bringing us back to empathy, where we started the whole thing out.
John: Right, right.
Mark: So what's interesting is that those themes of planning, and empathy, and humanity were taking something that's like the worst thing that could happen in a company.
John: And so in the training and getting that person teed up to be a good spokesperson is their nonverbals show their empathy as much as anything.
Mark: Right. Right.
John: And so you’ve got to watch that. So I've talked about dangers, opportunities, and strengths.
John: So when you're going into these, you've got to dig into them. That's how you get your story. Because the story has to relate to the people you're talking to. So think about it really quickly. So dangers. What are the dangers you got to think about? So what's their pain? What's their pain? What is the pain? Maybe it's their psychic pain, but what is their pain? What keeps them awake at night? Things keep people awake at night, right? What's their biggest problem that we need to address? And then we jump to opportunity. What's our goal? You look around. What's the goal of these people? What's their pain? they don't want to lose their housing value if something's happening in their neighborhood. What's their goal? Their goal is to have their children be at a safe place.
Well, I just got a survey back for a group of folks at a school. Number one biggest reason why they attend the school and number two has risen from below 10 in the past, and they're both the same thing. They both relate to safety. Right?
John: Right. So this is part of it. So what's their goal? What do they want? What do they really want? What's their dream? Think about it as an opportunity. What's their dream? And then to strength. Your strength is what can you do to address it? What can you do to help? What can you do to solve the problem? What can you do to make their life better as they go through this? And you got to address that. And so you got to deal with it, and all of this comes from a story. Everything we do comes from a story.
John: And we live in a time where there's very little brand allegiance. Think of the ads. How many mattress companies are there out there now doing digital and social and advertising for direct sales? There used to be, what, four or five mattress companies? There are like 20 now.
John: You can buy men's underwear from some guy in the web that's the best underwear in the world. The deal is that he's telling a story.
Mark: So would you agree with the statement that now people buy values, not value?
John: Yes. And they buy the story.
Mark: Right. And it's the story.
John: And the story's like, "I trust this guy." My Pillow. Mike Lindell. What the heck? This guy's making millions upon millions of dollars selling ... how many billion pillows do you think? I've got one. They're amazing.
Mark: Because it had a great story.
John: He has a great story. And it's him. And so he's telling it. So everything we buy, everything we spend our time on, every decision that we make, the issues we support or oppose, how we vote, are based on stories. And the thing is it's the opposite too. It's the stories we share, the stories we share with people, determine the actions in others for us, in a crisis or in any other part of life. So why? Why do stories work?
John: Because we need meaning in our life today. We don't need information. The information's at our fingertips. 20 years ago, say, you have all the information you'd need anywhere within-
Mark: 11 years ago.
John: Yeah. It's all there. And people are looking for meaning. They don't want information. And meaning comes from stories. So let's give people in this overwhelmed world of information a story which brings attention to things. And that's what the story is. It brings attention to it. It brings attention to you. It brings attention to your empathy. And we're able to go forward.
Mark: So you brought it all the way back. I love that.
John: Did I?
Mark: You did. You absolutely buttoned that up nicely. What I want to do is I want to stop there, because I want to stay on messaging in our next show and look at the anatomy of the message. You teased a little bit about like what are the various things. So we know we have to start with a story. We know that story has to trigger emotion. A couple of times, you reminded me of Maya Angelou's comment. She said, "People won't remember what you said. They'll remember how they felt when you said it." Right?
John: Exactly. Exactly.
Mark: And that's that whole emotional piece. But there are some specific data points in there. I think this is time for another checklist-
John: I don't know. Maybe.
Mark: Maybe around the anatomy of the message. So John, thank you so much, and we'll look forward to our next conversation.
John: You got it.
Mark: Thank you for listening. We look forward to you subscribing. Join us as we uncover and explain the nuances of John’s distinctive approach. For more episodes, visit thedaviesmethod.com. I’m Mark Sylvester, recording at the Pullstring Press studios in Santa Barbara, California.