Episode 72 | Posted on

Elevate Your Speaking Skills to Get Your Message Across with Tamsen Webster

Today’s guest is Tamsen Webster who’s a brilliant keynote speaker and change strategist. She’s also an insightful “idea whisperer” who knows how to bring a talk or presentation to life. Her experience with the topic runs deep; she’s the executive director of the oldest (and one of the largest) locally organized TED talk events in the world. She’s particularly noteworthy for her simple yet powerful “red thread” framework, which she’ll explore in depth in this episode.

In this Episode

  • [01:21] – Tamsen describes her framework, called the “red thread.”
  • [02:43] – The “red thread” is a Scandinavian phase related to the Greek myth of the minotaur and the labyrinth. Tamsen explains the origin, and then explores how it relates to her framework.
  • [06:28] – Tamsen walks us through her framework in more detail, mapping the various steps back to the labyrinth myth and her red thread concept. She explores the process of identifying the goal, the problem, the idea or diagnosis, and the change or solution.
  • [15:32] – We reach the last piece in putting a talk together: actions.
  • [17:04] – Stephan gives Tamsen an example: she’s trying to convince someone who doesn’t believe they have a problem as a speaker that this framework is the change that is required. What would be the goal, problem, idea, change, and actions in that scenario?
  • [20:04] – In response to Tamsen’s answer to his question, Stephan talks about the concept of the “wall of context” he’s been exploring on his other podcast, Get Yourself Optimized. Tamsen then expands on what Stephan has been saying, explaining that the audience needs to have its goal met on two levels: intellectual and emotional.
  • [23:23] – How could you match Tamsen’s framework with Stephan’s recent talk, “Seven Steps to Hiring an Insanely Great SEO”?
  • [25:11] – Tamsen explains what she means when she says that details obscure meaning.
  • [29:06] – We learn what the most important word in your mind when putting together a talk or a message should be.
  • [33:33] – Stephan expands on what Tamsen has been saying.
  • [34:31] – Stephan returns to the example of redoing his talk to use Tamsen’s framework. He gives an example of one of his steps, and she explains how to fit it into her red thread concept by walking her through her thought process. She asks questions to help get to insightful answers, which serves as a great example of questions to ask yourself about your talks.
  • [43:21] – After hearing Tamsen’s answer, Stephan unfolds what she has been saying and draws out another aspect of it. She then digs deeper into the structure of using her framework for a talk.
  • [46:38] – Tamsen offers some thoughts and insight for people who have been doing how-based talks instead of why-based talks, and wants to get keynote speaking gigs instead of just breakout sessions.
  • [52:48] – How can people reach Tamsen? She recommends going to her site at TamsenWebster.com.


Hello and welcome to Marketing Speak. I’m your host Stephan Spencer. Today, I have the distinct pleasure of inviting Tamsen Webster on the show. Tamsten is an acclaimed keynote speaker and idea whisperer and change strategist. She combined 20 years in marketing with 13 years as a weight watchers leader into a simple structure for understanding talking about and creating lasting change. She’s the executive director of the oldest and one of the largest locally organized Ted talk events in the world and an in demand consultant on finding an ideas that move people to action. Tamsen, it’s great to have you on the show.

I’m so excited to be here, Stephan. Thanks for having me.

You presented right before me at Content Marketing World and I got the pleasure of sitting in on your session.

I was your opening act.

Yes, right.

The warm up band.

It was fantastic. I’d love for you to share the framework that you shared in the session because it’s such a great framework for speaking and just being a more effective communicators. Let’s start there. What’s the name of it and how does it work?

The name of the framework is The Red Thread. I’ll come back to why it’s called that in just a minute, but the way to think of it is as a go to secret weapon for how it is that we make sense of things. The backstory on that is this. In order for someone to change a behavior, or an idea, or really anything, the certain pieces of information that they have to hear, and importantly they have to hear them in a certain order before they will make that change. Think of it like Mad Libs, for change. Remember that game for your kids or maybe you play it now, I don’t know, where the story is pre-written but there are these blanks that need to be filled in. That’s exactly what it’s like when people are listening to someone speak. They’re waiting for certain blanks to be filled in. The framework I’ve created identifies those blanks, identifies that basic story. I call it The Red Thread because it has its origin in both a Swedish phrase that focuses on little known detail of a well-known myth. Let me pause there because I’m not sure which direction what you want to go next but that’s the quick answer to what it is.

We can’t leave everybody hanging on what is this myth and what’s the detail.

The Swedish phrase, they use it, it turns out it’s a Scandinavian phrase. I met someone from Denmark yesterday, he was like, “Oh yes, we have that phrase too.” The way that it’s used is to ask people what’s the true line of something. What does this thing mean? And so, when I found out I was like, “Oh! Let’s connect this to meeting, that’s important.” When I started to dig into why is it called The Red Thread, the first person I asked, she said, “I don’t know.” Instead of getting an answer to that question, I got a mystery to solve which I love. It turns out that while there are many, many Red Threads in various religions, philosophies in the world, the Red thread that’s associated with that phrase, what does this mean, comes from the Greek myth of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth. If you are familiar with the myth, as I’m sure you are, it’s the story of the Minotaur who is a half man, half bull. He was a monster. He lives in the center of a maze. Every nine years, the people of Athens had to send their best and brightest young men and young women as a sacrifice to this Minotaur. You might ask why did they do that? Why didn’t they just say no? If they didn’t, then an evil king would come and destroy Athens so this was their best option, not much of an option. One year, one of the boys, one of the young men that went to be sacrificed to the Minotaur was named Theseus and he decided this was going to stop right here with him. He took in with him a sword which is what he was going to use to kill the Minotaur but he realized something that many others before him hadn’t really thought out and that was that the Minotaur lived in this maze but the maze by some accounts was pitch black. In other words, people could find their way in, but they couldn’t necessarily find their way back out. Theseus brought something else with him into that maze and as you may guess, it was a ball of red thread. What he did was he unwound the red thread on his way in so he could follow it back out and make sure, not only did he find his way, but found his way most efficiently. Once I found that story, I was like, “Oh my goodness, I have to use this, as it relates to this framework.” How I like to connect it to, is this, three of the things that we’re listening for when we’re listening for change that we need to have happen. We are listening for a problem that needs to be solved. That’s the monster and the maze. We’re listening for a solution which is the sword that we carry. We’re listening for what is the world that makes that solution the right answer for that particular problem, and that’s the maze. What we’re looking for as listeners, and therefore as speakers, is always making sure that we have monsters, mazes, and swords. That we have problems, ideas, and changes that need to be made in order to, what we’re trying to say, make sense to our audience. The way that we do that is we connect them all with the red thread.

What we’re looking for as listeners, and therefore as speakers, is always making sure that we have monsters, mazes, and swords.

Very nice. Whatever happened to that young man who went into the maze, did he kill the Minotaur?

He did. He killed the Minotaur found his way back out and eventually became the king of Athens.


Yay. Go Theseus. Yeah, it wouldn’t be much of a story of it was like, “That didn’t work.”

That was a real mess. Let’s go through the framework.


You got a problem, how do we frame all this? How do we turn something that is just kind of a mediocre talk into something compelling and powerful by using your framework?

Absolutely. The three that I mentioned, the problem, the idea, and the change are the core. The way to really get them and really fully understand what they are, you have to back up a little bit on either side.  Thankfully, the mnemonics for this, the way we remember this are also connected to the story. The very first thing you have to think to yourself is you’re putting together a talk or even just trying to come up with the idea of a talk is the goal. Why are you doing this? I should say it’s not why are you doing it. The goal is what the audience wants to have happen as a result of hearing your talk. The goal is the thing that they would readily say yes to. If you were to say to them, “Hey! Do you want to change your marketing?” They would say, “Yes!” It’s the thing that they want, that you’re talk helps them solve. In the case of, we’re going to map it back to the Minotaur and the Labyrinth, the goal of that, of course, is how can we save the future of Athens. Everyone’s going to say, “Yes. We want to save the future of Athens. How are we going to do that?” You start with a goal. I want to repeat, the goal has to be what the audience wants and what they would readily agree they know they want before they even heard your talk. That’s the goal.


With that in mind, then you start to think to yourself, “Well, what’s the problem with that?” The place that a lot of people start, and it is a good thing to do in the course of your talk, is what are the things that the audience would readily see? That they know are getting in the way. What are the known barriers that are responsible for that? Ultimately though, what you’re trying to boil down to, and this is one of the ways to make a good talk great or to get your talk to be at a different level, like the TedX level for instance, is to identify the single underlying problem that ties all of those known barriers together. Let’s say you want to give a talk on some approach to content marketing for instance and you know that the audience wants to differentiate their business, but they’re going to point to things like why they can’t stand out, the channels are changing all the time, or I don’t have the resources, or my senior executive doesn’t prioritize it. What you want to do is find the underlying problem that ties all of those things together. In the case of this mythical talk that I’m talking about, if I was giving that talk I would say, “The problem is that you are focusing on the channels and not on what’s going into them.” That would be what I would call water and pipe problem. In other words, you’re focusing on the pipe, on the can’t do it through which things go and not the thing you’re putting into it. The problem, and I may give that example, because the problem is almost always a continuum problem like that. What do I mean by that? Remember what we’re trying to do is get people to change their world view. We are trying to identify the real problem that’s getting in the way of the audience’s goal. We need to be able to classify the misguided worldview. One of the easiest ways to do that is to say, “Well, what is it like? Is it like forest of trees? Is the problem that they’re looking at the big picture and they need to be looking at the details or are they looking at the trees and they should be seeing the forest?” Another example would be is it an inside outside problem? Are they looking only on the outside when they should be looking on the inside? Are they looking on the inside, when they should be looking at the outside? In my work, when I’m working with clients, I have a list of these archetypal problems that we walk through until we find the one that fits this particular problem. What you want to do is figure out for the problem what is the one thing that all those known barriers boil down to and the best ones are going to be some fundamental. You’re looking at the world like this, but really, this other way is the answer.


That’s the problem.

Got it.

A lot of people want to jump straight to the solution. They’re like, “Oh, Okay. We’re just now in a normal talk development or idea development. If we’ve got a problem, let’s have a solution.” Based on the work that I’ve done through my career of marketing and also with a lot speakers, I realized that this is the place for most people, if a talk or a message isn’t successful, it’s right here that the red thread breaks. At one level, it seems to make sense that if we’ve presented a problem, we should just go right to the solution, but let me explain it in a different way to understand why there needs to be something else, there needs to be something that ties those two things together.


Imagine for instance that you’re going in for a regular check up at your doctor’s office and at one point, your doctor is behind you and she says to you, “Stephan, you’ve got a spot on your back.” Well, that’s a problem. If she would’ve go straight to the solution, that would be the equivalent of her saying immediately after that, when do you want to schedule surgery? When I explain it that way to people, they’re like, “Oh yeah. I’ve got some questions. Why is surgery the right answer for the spot on my back?” There has to be, this is what I’m saying, we are always listening for these answers to these questions, but most people don’t even realize what these question really are. In between the problem and the solution, or as I like to call it, the problem in the change, there must be an idea, there must be a concept, a new piece of information that people cannot unhear that serves, to continue that previous metaphor, as the diagnosis of the problem. Back to the minotaur and the labyrinth, it’s the maze that explains why you would take a sword and to fight the minotaur because that’s the only thing that will kill it. You need something in between. If I were to continue with this mythical content marketing talk, I might say, “Well, the thing that we have to understand, the diagnosis of the problem, the reason why this problem is such a problem, is that if we’re only focusing on the channels and not the content, the thing we have to understand is the rules of how people respond to content never change so good content is good content no matter what the channel is.” That may not be a life changing realization for people but we have to explain with it because that sets the context for both the problem and the solution. Sum all that up, the way that I define the idea, it’s the one thing that the audience must understand, but probably doesn’t right now, to solve the problem and therefore achieve their goal. The best way to get there is to say, “What is the thing that uniquely ties the problem and the solution, the change together?” My husband, Tom Webster, calls it the palindromic why. Palindrome is a word that’s the same backwards and forwards. The idea is one concept, not an action, not a problem, but a concept that explains both why the problem is such a problem and why the change that you need to make is the only change that is necessary. It is, back to our doctor example, it is the answer of, “Oh, it’s lint.” That’s your problem. Therefore, the right thing to do is brush it off versus it looks like it might be pre-cancerous therefore, let’s schedule some surgery to explore it. We have the goal which is what the audience would readily agree they want, that your talk would solve. The problem, which is the underlying issue worldview? What’s the detour they’re taking on the road to their goal? The idea, which is the diagnosis of that detour and so that leads us now finally to what is the change. The change is the thing that they now need to do to correct their problem. Apply that new piece of knowledge to the idea and therefore achieve their goal. Simply, of course, it is the solution. The reason why I’d like to talk about it as a change is that it helps to make sure that we are closing that world view loop of the problem. If you’ve got a problem where you’re focusing on the channels and not the content that’s in them and we’ve got an idea that people always respond to positive or well-constructed content no matter what it is, that means the change is not just focused on the content, it’s craft content that matches how people process information. You’ll always achieve differentiation for your content no matter the channel. It’s important that the change isn’t a, a reverse engineering of the problem. It can’t just be, we’re looking at this so it’s the opposite of that but b, it needs to make sure that it builds on, A is the world view, B here’s the diagnosis therefore, that means that we need to do something fundamentally different than we were doing before. Very simply, the last piece, now that’s our monster, maze, and sword so, our problem, idea, and our change Then the final piece when you’re putting a talk together is actions. The actions are simply the details of this new direction that the change represent. If we were giving this content marketing talk, I might say, “Okay, what does that look like?” Well, I could say, “A, follow the red thread. Understand what those pieces are. Identify the goal, the problem, the idea, the change, and the action of the folks you’re talking to. B, Prioritize the channels based on the goals of the audience that you’re talking to and then C, review regularly to make sure that there’s a good match between what your audience wants and where you’re putting it and what you’re saying in those channels. That’s just a quick example of how you could use, you can go from a topic, I want to talk about content marketing and get all the way into a solid and sophisticated idea just by figuring out those blanks on the Mad lib. Goal, problem, idea, change, and action.

Let’s actually apply this at a couple of different instances. One is you have this wonderful framework. Let’s say that you’re trying to convince somebody who doesn’t believe that they even have a problem, that they’re not that effective as a speaker and at this framework would be the solution or the change that is required. What would be the goal? What would be the problem, idea, change and then action in that kind of scenario?

This is like advance level quizzing of Tamsen.

Of course.

I’m going to say if you’re talking with a speaker or somebody who wants to use speaking to advance their goals, then the goal I would start with is probably something along the lines of you want to use speaking to achieve your goals because that’s the thing that people would readily say yes to. Ultimately, I would say, “If I want you to use the red thread, I believe once you hear it, once I make the case for it, that in fact, will help you achieve those goals.” Now, what you’ve just articulated is a very specific kind of talk which is somebody who doesn’t realize that they have that problem. A talk that focuses on that is going to spend a majority of its time and making the case that you have a problem that you didn’t realize that you had. In this case, what I would be doing is starting with the known barriers say, “Okay, well there’s a lot of competition in the market place. Maybe you don’t know what your ideas are. Maybe you’re having trouble getting onto new stages. Maybe you even don’t know what you would want to talk about. Maybe you’re doing well, but you just want to move from break-out speaking to keynote speaking or maybe you’ve got it on the bucket list to do TedX and you can’t figure out why you can’t break through that.” I would start with those known barriers and then I would start to explain what are all the pieces and parts of what might be getting in the way of all of those things. My advice, of course, is to go back to how is it that people make a decision to change? How is it that they process and hear information? How is it that they make those decisions? What is it that people respond to when they are receiving information? I would start there. I’ll start to, “Here’s what your audience needs and here’s what that needs.” And then, I would start to introduce some information of and here some things that we, as humans, are wired to do. We are wired to always present our information from what the Daniel Kahneman calls the inside view. We are always wired to say, “Well, I understand it this way so you must.” I would also introduce a concept along the lines of there’s a fundamental way that we make meaning for people and it isn’t intellectual first, it’s intuitive, it’s emotional first. But guess what, the way that we’re probably presenting information is to give people all the details before we lay in the meaning. I have some problem with third concept which my conclusion would be you think you are giving this talk for the audience when in fact you are giving it for yourself. That’s going to be a problem because if you’re trying to achieve your goals and so here is the idea, you can only achieve your goals if the audience achieves theirs. Change, you need to craft your speeches, you need to craft your talk to the audience’s lens based on with the audience lens of their goals first. How would you do that? Red thread.

I love it. That coincides with another concept I’ve been talking about in my other podcast on Get Yourself Optimized about having a wall of context separating you and the person you’re in conflict with or in conversation with. You have to climb that wall of context to get over to their side and then experience what their world is like. It’s not enough that you get their world. What has to happen is they have to know that have been gotten.

Yeah, I love that phrase, Stephan. The wall of context, that’s great.

That resonates what you’re describing. The audience has to get their goal met before you can get yours met.

Absolutely. The extra layer that I would lay into this is that they have to get their goal met on two levels and this is absolutely something that a lot of speakers miss. There are, back to Kahneman, if you’re familiar with his work he talks about system one, system two, thinking, as the book is called Thinking, Fast and Slow and what that basically describes, you’ve heard other people talk about similar concepts, the lizard brain versus the evolved brain or the monkey brain. Essentially, what he describes is there is a fast intuitive way that we listen to make decisions and there this slow rational way that we make decisions. In other words, to paraphrase another scholar psychologist, we’re not rational decision makers, we’re rationalizing decision makers and this is particularly true of your audience. The audience listens in the moment emotionally first, intuitively first, those things have to be there. Intellectually, if they’re not feeling that emotional thing then they start intellectualize the talk which means, as an example, I mentioned those there have been times when you have seen a speaker, your audience is gone to see the speaker and the moment the speaker was hysterical or really entertaining or they got you really fired up and motivated and then a couple minutes later after someone asked you what was the talk about you’re like, “I don’t know. I actually don’t remember. I felt great but actually I didn’t actually do anything different.” Usually that’s because when people go back, the experience, the talk, and the moment, but then they go back and think about it and when they go back and think about it, if those things don’t match up, if those blanks, were not filled emotionally and intellectually, the talk won’t work.

Got it. I love this concept. This is really powerful. It’s like you’re saying mad libs for taking your speaking to whole other level. Let’s use an example from my world. One of my talks I gave recently at the State of Search conference, 7 Steps to Hiring an Insanely Great SEO and I thought that was a fantastic talk. My headline started with a number which is always good, kind of like the BuzzFeed headlines. I had really punchy, powerful steps, techniques that would be sometimes counterintuitive or surprising. It was good stuff but I didn’t use your framework so how could we up my game even more by taking this talk and applying the red thread framework to 7 Steps to Hiring an Insanely Great SEO?

It’s always a fun challenge to figure out how do you match a great, click bait-y title with a structure that actually delivers in a way that people can understand it. The answer is this, the seven steps can still be there, but you don’t necessarily want to structure a talk in those seven steps unless they happen to coincide with that process of evolving from goal to action. In that case, usually a seven step kind of talk, or three step, or the six ways, or whatever is what I would call the how talk. The first talk we talked about was how to convince someone they have a problem. That’s what I would call why talk. The seven steps is what I’m calling the how talk. In a how talk, those same questions of goal, problem, idea, change, action still need to be answered, but you’re going to spend a lot less time on the goal, the problem, the idea, and the change. You know that you’re ready to give that kind of talk when you say to yourself if someone have this goal, would they readily agree? Yes. If I told them this was the problem, would they readily agree? They’re out of their gate. You don’t have to convince them, maybe like, yes, in your case, like if it’s hiring this insanely great SEO person then they’re not going to argue with the fact that’s a good thing and you may decide there’s not any kind of world shattering problem behind that. You would basically move through the goal, the problem, the idea, and the change pretty quickly so that you get critically to that question. Okay, great but how do we do this? “Okay,” you say, “I have identified seven steps.” Because you want to make sure, as I said, in one form earlier, you want to make sure you’re laying in the meaning before you lay in the detail because detail obscures meaning.

Details obscures meaning, what do you mean by that?

The more detail that you give to people, the harder it is for them to see what it actually means. Whenever we’re listening to information, let’s go back to the system one, system two steps so the thinking, fast thinking and slow thinking. The more that you overwhelm people with detail, exactly how is something done, you do step by step one, step two, step three, step four, step five, what you’re doing is you’re giving them a whole bunch of information without anything for it to stick to. Meaning provides, think of it like a Velcro base that you have to lay in, in order for things to stick to it or an even fun more dorky thing. Remember colorforms when you’re growing up, they’re like static cling thing, you have to have that blackboard first before you could put anything attached to it and that’s what meaning allows you to do. If you think about it this way, if you’re just to give people a whole bunch of stuff to hold onto, like let me give a whole bunch of forms, let me get you a whole bunch of things of shapes that eventually stick to Velcro but I’m not giving you the Velcro, what starts to happen? They cannot physically hold it and that’s in fact the same thing that happens in the brain. If you don’t give them something to attach it to, they’re going to lose it. That’s why you have to make sure that even in the high level or even if it’s done very quickly, you have to make sure that people understand. Alright, here’s what this means conceptually, now I can lay in the detail of it.

This is even is applicable to a sales situation because I’m realizing as you’re talking, I’m overwhelming the Prospect with details. Like, “Okay, here’s what’s going on with these different technical aspects of your SEO. Here’s what going on with the link analysis side of things.” They’re just swimming in detail and they’re not able to make an emotional decision to hire me because they’re just overwhelmed and I need to change my structure.

It’s the equivalent of giving somebody turn by turn directions based on landmarks in a place they’ve never been to a place they don’t know they’re going. Imagine dropping somebody down in the middle of a city. They have no idea where they are and you’re just like, “Go three steps and turn right at the tree with a nut on it.” And they’re like, “Is this the right tree? Is that the right tree? I don’t know.” Think about it differently saying, “Okay. Where do you want to go?” “I want to go to see the Patriots Super Bowl Parade in Boston.” And so, you say, “Okay, well right now we’re in Europe. The first thing we need to do is we need to go to the United States. Let’s talk about how we do that. Now, once we’re in the United States, we need to go to Massachusetts, we need to go to Boston. Okay, are we there? Are you with me? Great. Now that we’re there we need to figure out okay, the routes going here from wherever we landed. Let’s figure how do we get to the next spot.” Once they understand where they are, you say, “Okay, now do you see where this tree is, on that route? That’s where I want you to go and that’s how I want you to get there.” And they go, “Oh!” But most of the time, we haven’t given that, it’s back to your context, quite frankly, you haven’t given the context onto which to anchor any of this information. Absolutely, in sales conversation, this is the mistake I see happen over and over again particularly with sales messages, is that they jump straight to how can we fix it for you? We have skipped over the fact that we haven’t told them A, there’s a spot on their back, B, what the nature of that spot is, and therefore C, this is how the surgery will work. We just go straight to, well first I need you to take this medication, you need to come in on Saturday, you need to do this and you’re like, “Whoa, what’s going on? Why?” You have to back up, back up and give more information.

If we’re to put in the difference in a way that we have to build in that relatedness, know that they’ve been gotten by me before we can proceed and build the case for why you need to work with me.

Know that they’ve been gotten by me before we can proceed and build the case for why you need to work with me. Click To Tweet

Absolutely. I frame it from the context of, as you’re putting together a message or a talk, I mean all of these I’m talking applies to both, is that the most important word in your mind is yes and what you’re trying to do is test yourself as the creator of this message. Every turn and say and ask yourself, “Would the audience readily say yes to this?” If the answer for you is no, not quite, you have to back up and say, “Okay, what would they say yes to?” First, they have to say yes to before they get to this and if you think about it that way, you’ll see why the vast majority of sales conversations that jump right into how something works violate that rule because if you walk-in and you’re talking to someone for the first time and you say, “Okay, this is your goal. You want this to happen with your marketing and marketing efforts.” And they say, “Yes.” You say, “Let me tell you how this SEO thing is going to work.” They’re going to say, “No.” Because they don’t know why they need it, they don’t know why that approach is any different than what they’re doing right now, they don’t know why what they’re doing right now is bad enough that they need to change it, they don’t understand why how you’re approaching SEO is different than somebody else, they may not even understand how SEO works fundamentally, before they worry about how you do it. These are the things you have to back up and as honestly as you can say, “Do they have the information they need to say yes?” And if they don’t, you have to back up which means in sales may mean that you are spreading out conversation over a longer period of time. That may terrify sales people who maybe listening to this but in essence, what it does is it helps you better qualify your lead. If you’ve made the case for the problem and somebody goes, “Yup, I understand totally but that’s actually not what I have here.”  Based on the conversation you have with them, you go, “Yeah, I agree. You don’t have that problem.” Rather than try to take somebody all the way through this process who isn’t for you, or who you’re not for, or your product service isn’t for, you get only the people through who are the ones that ultimately this product and service is best going to serve. Which of course means, and here’s the secret, that before you do the red thread there are some fundamental questions you have to ask for yourself. An easy way I can phrase those is you need to understand, and you can answer this anywhere. Number one, who are you really for? I don’t mean what’s your target demographic, what’s the end issues that they’re in, you’re saying, “We are for people who are this far along in the process, who already value SEO, who are looking for a better way to do it.” That’s the kind of thing I’m looking for, I’m not looking for what’s their market, I’m looking or their mindset because that’s going to tell you everything you need to know. It’s also going to tell you that your message for that person is fundamentally different than the person for whom you have to make the case for SEO in the first place. If you’re talking to somebody who’s already warm SEO, already knows that’s the problem they want to solve, you can have a much more in depth conversation with it. Who are you for? The second thing is what do you want them to know? What’s the message? Is it this particular approach to SEO is the best path to them achieving their goals? Great. If you don’t know what it is out of the gate, guess what, that’s what the red thread helps you clarify. The third question coming into it is why? Why are you having this conversation? In other words, what’s the result that you want to have happen and you can apply this to speaking to. If you’re using this for a sales thing and you’re saying, “Why am I giving this talk? Why am I having this conversation?”  The easy answer of it is because I want them to buy something. You want to be more specific than that, you may say, “Because I want them to move towards and to take the assessment that I have because I want them to take the assessment. I want to have this conversation so that they can take the assessment because once they’ve taken the assessment, I know that they’ll be ready to buy.” Or if you’re speaking you say, “I want to give this talk because I want to be able to sell a workshop off of it.” That means that you’re going to articulate the whole message around that as the outcome rather than something else. Who are you for, what do you want them to know, and why do you want them to know that, what is the goal for you?

As part of this process, you want to, for those people who don’t really understand the reason for doing this, that they don’t feel the emotional pull to go with your solution whether because they’re not feeling the pain, you want to stretch the gap so that you can accentuate the problems state that they’re in, get them in that state of feeling the pain and accentuate that and then accentuate the distance between where they are now and the desired end state that they want to be in.

Absolutely, because they will not go further. The red thread pieces happen in order. They will not get to a question of how do I solve this if they don’t understand why they have a problem in the first place. They just can’t so, you cannot skip that step and yet we do it all the time.

You’ll lose them in the maze.

You will absolutely lose them in the maze. That’s right.

Let’s go back to the original precept here that we were going to a redo my talk on 7 Steps to Hiring Insanely Great SEO so that it uses your framework. I’ll just give you a couple of sample of steps in there. For example, getting the garden to wee itself, getting the candidate to wee themselves out of the consideration set without us having to do a lot of work by having tricks in the process, like they have to follow certain instructions in the job advertisement and if they didn’t do that, they don’t even get an email back so you have to solve a riddle and sure you work in to reply. You can send your CV and all that but if you didn’t solve the riddle, we’re not taking your application. If they don’t follow these instructions then they’re out. I didn’t even have to waste any time further screening them, doing first interviews or anything. That would be an example of the sort of steps in this process of hiring the insanely great SEO.

You’ve got a situation which is very common which is a lot of people, and particularly those who speak conference, that we have a really good set of steps for people to take. The first step to do the red thread and what’s cool about it, if I can say that, is that you can reverse engineer. The first thing I would say is instead of taking the known barriers and rolling up to what problem it is, what you’ve got is you’re at opposite end. You’re saying, “I have all these actions.” If I were to roll them all up and say, “What is the one real, big change in approach that this represents as far as it goes to how does somebody approaching and hiring an SEO expert? What would your answer be? What do all of those 7 steps roll up to?

It’s a new way of hiring an SEO whether it’s an employee, or contractor, or an agency. Instead of winging it, shooting from the hip and hoping that the person or the company works out, you have a set of framework and this is a proven framework. It works so much better. That would be the unifying thought.

Yeah, the unifying thought then so the change that you’re asking people to make is that they need to have a structured process for finding the best expert for them. What’s interesting about how you frame that was you already memorized it. There’s always this black white, light dark, up down, inside out dichotomy that’s at the root there. Basically, what you’re saying is you would reverse engineer. You know that your problem is some form of they’ve got a scattered shot undirected process because ultimately what you’re recommending is a structured one. The thing that you have to solve in between those two is if the framework is your surgery, why is the framework the key to solving that? What problem does the framework ultimately solve? What is the thing about not having a framework that’s so important that only having a framework can give them?

Are you asking me for the problem or for the idea right now?

Well, either one because I think sometimes they come out at the same time.

I think that the problem is that a bad hire is very expensive. It’s like a year and half of that person’s salary and a lot of not tangible cost involved too, in terms of moral in the company and so forth. The direct cause, it’s like a year and a half, I think, of their salary making a bad hire. We want to avoid that pain, that problem, and here’s the idea is that let’s think out of the box and come up with a framework and a model that will screen through a lot of a rift-raft and get them really great folks even though they don’t necessarily know SEO that well and they’re the one doing the hiring.

One other clarifying question for me. What would you say the goal is? If somebody signed up for your talk on 7 Steps to Hiring a Great SEO expert, what’s their goal? What do they want to have happen as a result of hiring that SEO expert?

In my talk at state of search, there were a lot of agencies and SEO consultancies there so they need great staff and usually, agencies are looking for more great people. In the case of, let’s say it’s a retailer, an online retailer, or just some website that they need a full time SEO person and they don’t want to make a bad hire, they don’t want to make a mistake, they want to increase their rankings and their traffic and sales and take their business to another level.

Right, there’s probably some kind of desire efficiency of process there because they want to find the best person as quickly as possible because they want to maximize their investment. They want to get the best ROI as they can out of their SEO. You’ve hit on the problem which is without the current approach to that, without that person in place, there’s obviously some massive inefficiencies in that, that there are costs that are beyond that they’re aware of. Also, what you’re saying is the reason why that’s happening is because we’re taking this scatter shot approach to them.

But on an emotional level, I think, this is what’s really powerful, is that a lot of these people have made bad hires before. They’ve gotten burned and so you get them emotionally by connecting them up with the pain of making a bad hire especially if it was not an agency but just a small business who’s trying to get their rankings higher and they made a bad hire, whether it was an agency, or consultant, or whatever. Not only did they not get any value out of it, maybe they got reverse value, they got a penalty or theirs rankings actually went down and got worse.

May I ask you this question, the idea is often a fundamental assumption that you, the speaker, has. Do you believe that great SEO comes down, not the hiring of a great SEO, but SEO itself, do you believe that comes down to a solid process? That SEO requires a solid process?

I do.

What I would say is that here’s a way to make this interesting. You’ve got this problem where you’re saying this is incredibly painful for you guys for getting the wrong hire. Ultimately what you’re saying is it’s the fact that you’re approaching this kind of as a scattered shot way. You’re treating the hiring of this as if it’s something as the same as you would some other person. This is where the idea comes in. The reason why that’s happening and also, the reason why you need to adopt this framework for hiring somebody is that the SEO in it of itself is a process that is best… What I’m trying to do is connect the fact that if you want a process that is as efficient and as directed as the person that you’re trying to hire, or another way you could put it is the process can reveal the requirements that you’re looking for, or something along those lines. What we’re trying to say is because SEO is a process, you can put it in a process for hiring that reflects whether or not that person has that sensibility which if you could make that concept a little bit more cleanly, than I just did, what that allows you to do is see this why the problem of hiring this person like any other person is a problem because you’re not revealing how they think. Simultaneously, this is also why you need a focus in a very specific process for hiring this person because, back to the palindromic why, because the process itself needs to. You need to reveal process thinking. We always want to find some punchy way to capture the idea. Here’s what I would give it for you, just try this one for size. Only a process can reveal process oriented thinking.

I like it.

That’s what you want something in the middle of it and people are like, “Oh! Well alright.” Because then, it becomes something that they can’t unhear and then when somebody goes, “Why do we need this process?” You’re like, “Well, you want them to repeat it, you want them to go because only a process can expose process oriented thinking. SEO is a process therefore, we need a process for hiring our SEO person.

SEO is a process therefore, we need a process for hiring our SEO person.

I love it.

That’s my 10-minute assumption. 10-minute revise on your talk.

No, that’s super powerful because I was going along the lines as you are talking like SEO is a process and if you do it ad hoc and just kind of wing it, you’ll get unpredictable results or even worse results than if you had done nothing. Hiring is very similar so you got resonance there between the SEO as a process versus ad hoc and hiring as a process versus doing it ad hoc.

I think those are key concepts that you would have to lay in either as you’re making the case for the problem or as your making the case for the idea. When you take the red thread, you start to figure out how to build a talk around this. Essentially, what you’re doing is you’re using each of those five things, goal, problem, idea, change, action as end points on the main sections of the talk. The first main section of the talk is to move people from agreement with a goal to agreement with a problem. The things you just talked about SEO is a process. Right now, you’re hiring this kind of ad hoc. That’s the key concept to understand. The second thing I have to understand before I grew with your problem, the undirected process is what’s hurting me. Second thing you have to understand is SEO is a process and the third thing you have to understand is SEO requires people who think in a process oriented way. Now, I’ve got a problem. I’ve got an ad hoc process for hiring this person. Why is that such a problem? I am making the case for the idea, it’s the next big section. This is such a problem and you’d give all the information they need so they come to agreement with only a process can reveal a process oriented thinking. This is a place where you can have fun with the talk. This is where you can introduce interesting stories, or fun things about the brain, or about human behaviour, or about SEO, or about whatever that they may not have known about so they can come away from that going, “Oh! Well now I understand why having an ad hoc process is a problem because I need a process oriented thinker and only a process reveals process oriented thinking.” And then, you’ll be making the case, fundamentally now that means that I have to make a change. I need to have a process for hiring SEO that is designed to reveal the kind of thinking that I need. And their answer to how, that’s the last section. It’s still the last section talk is your answer to that, is your seven steps.

Got it. To apply this more generally, if you have a very tactical how oriented talk, that’s more of a workshop and you want to elevate the style of that talk to something that’s more keynote level and get keynote speaking gigs. It needs to be much more about the why and not as much about the how and can’t just presuppose that they already get it. This is a gap that needs to be jumped, that needs to be met somehow. Let’s talk about how we would go from a workshop to a keynote and how this how versus why is so different from each other? Let’s say our listener wants to get more keynotes speaking gigs and not just do breakout sessions.

Sure. The way this all starts to coalesced together is that, I talked about why talks, the keynote high level, get somebody understand they have a problem and then the how talks or the more breakout workshop level. Let me understand how specifically to make this particular change that I need to have happen. There is a talk that sits in between, the talk that is the equivalent whose answer ends in the idea which is the what now talk. I’d say a huge portion of keynotes are actually this. The first half of the talk focuses on what the problem is and what a new way of seeing the world is and the back half of the talk talks about something a high level you need to do differently. Ann Handley, some of your listeners may have listened too. She has a great talk on Bigger Bolder Braver I helped her with that talk but that’s what I would call a what now talk. The first half of the talk is I want to stand out as a marketer, I’m struggling with why, and she’s essentially saying the best marketing comes to an integrity of outlook and perspective. That’s the big pivot of the talk and then the rest of the talk is what would we need to do, we need to be bigger, bolder, braver. Here’s how you move from one to another. The first thing is to understand. If you’re talking about a how talk, the goal that people walk in with is going to be the change of the what now talk that precedes it. In other words, for yours, if you’ve got people walking and saying, “I want to make sure I’m hiring the best SEO expert I can.” Then, they have understood and already bought into the change from a previous talk or a previous message that says I need a directive process for how to do this. The next talk starts with the goal of I want a directed process of how to do this, show me how do I apply these seven steps that you’re talking about? From there, your how talk is basically I’m walking in with wanting to have a directive process for hiring an SEO expert because they already believe I have this problem of an under ad hoc thing and I already believe that I need a process to reveal process oriented thinking so show me how to do that, that’s the end. The middle talk, you need to reverse engineer. If I want to end somebody with this, I need a directed process. You need to start them with the goal coming in. The goal coming in is probably something along the lines of I want to hire the best SEO expert I can find. By the way, I think what sounded like a how talk that you described is actually a what now talk hiding in disguise. Because that was the talked we just walked through. Now the why talk would take that goal, I want to hire an SEO expert and that would be the best SEO expert I can, that would become the change of the previous talk in front of that. What you are doing is, this a great one for brand awareness or whatever but you would start people with the goal of I want to differentiate my marketing in the marketplace, and the change is you need somebody focused on SEO in order to do that. The what now talks start with, so now we’re walking back through it, the what now talks start with I want to hire a great SEO person, you’re walking them through why that’s not happening, why that’s not what you can do to solve it. The change ends up being I need a directive process to hire that person. Workshop how to talk, I need a directive process to hire that person, here’s the seven steps. It might mean that in the what now talk, you’re at a high level talking about what those seven steps are, and the how talk would be all about that, it would just like step one, this what it looks like, this is how you do it.

That’s amazing. In fact, that makes me think I need to go back over my whole library of power points that I’ve done over the years. There’s some great talks and great content in there but I’ve never structured them like these are my what now talks, these are my why talks, and these are my how talks, and to use your framework on it. I think every listener should be doing the same thing, not just how do I go from being a pretty good speaker to a TEDx type speaker or how do I go from being typically relegated to the breakout sessions to now being keynote presenter and getting paid to speak, but also how do I structure all my existing content that I normally get off either as presentations on stage or presentations in sales meetings and turn those into the what now, why, and how talks.

Exactly. I call that platform planning when I’m working with my clients on that. Basically, I know the general idea that I’m trying to get across, and/or I know I want to move from breakouts to keynotes, or I know I want to start selling more workshops, or whatever your goal might be. When we sit down and say okay given what that is, what’s that program of talk you can put into place or that program of messages if I’m working with the sales organization that helps you understand early stage in a sales process, for instance you need talks to focus on why,  mid-stage you need to focus on what now. It’s the last conversation when you’re talking about let’s make a buy decision, you go to how. It really is about figuring out how all these things work together and it’s also behind my belief that a lot of times people think they need to get better as a speaker from a polish and performance standpoint when in fact that’s pretty good. The reason why they’re not getting on bigger stages is because the idea isn’t elevated enough and you have to move the idea up before you can move up.

Wow that’s amazing. I can just tell it would be incredible to work with you. I’m sure some listeners are thinking, “Gosh, I got to hire this lady. She’s amazing.” How would somebody reach out to you and potentially work with you because you take on clients and you help them up their game in terms of their speaking. Do you want to direct them to a website?

Sure. Just about everything about me that you need to know is on tamsenwebster.com. Take a look there, I’ve got a quick overview of what I do and how I do it as well as what that looks like and what it costs. Most of your questions could be answered and getting in touch with me through that is a great way to do it. You can also find me on Facebook. My public page is facebook.com/TamsenWebster. I’m on twitter at @Tamadere. Starting tomorrow, I’m going to be launching a video show on YouTube so you can find me @youtube.com/TamsenWebster. I’m going to be a video podcast called find the red thread.

Awesome. You will also make that available through iTunes so that people can subscribe your podcast that way?

Yes. We’re going to probably be 3 weeks before we do iTunes. What we’re going to do is launch with iTunes with a batch but the videos will be posted on my website, on the blog part of the website starting Wednesday, February 8 and those will go off weekly every Wednesday, is the plan.

By the time this airs all this will be up and posted because I’m about 3 or 4 weeks out. Fabulous, this has just been amazing. I’m so inspired to go through and redo all my power points and start re-strategizing all of my talks. Thank you so much. Listeners, do check out the episode show notes and the checklist that we have for you of actions to take based on this interview and then also the show notes itself with links. Check that out at marketingspeak.com and we’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak, this is Stephan Spencer signing off.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ When making a speech, make sure you include three elements: monsters (problems), mazes (ideas), and swords (necessary changes).

☑ Make sure you connect the monsters, mazes, and swords in your speaking engagements. This connection between the three is the “red thread” of Tamsen’s framework.

☑ When you’re putting together a talk, identify your goal first. The goal is what the audience wants — and know they want — before they even hear your talk.

☑ After identifying your goal, identify the single underlying problem that ties all of the audience’s known barriers together.

☑ In your talk, don’t immediately jump from the problem to the solution. Instead, put an idea or concept that essentially diagnoses the problem in between the two.

☑ Meet your audience’s goal on two levels: intellectual and emotional. If you only offer one or the other, your talk won’t be persuasive

☑ Include “Velcro” in your talk; give the audience meaning so that they have something for the details to stick to. Otherwise, they won’t be able to hold onto those details.

☑ As you prepare a talk, ask yourself, “Would the audience say ‘yes’ to this?” If not, back up and give the information they need to say ‘yes.’

☑ “Stretch the gap” in your message. Accentuate the distance between where your audience is now, and where their desired end state is.

☑ Go over the existing talks you have and sort them into three categories: “how” talks, “what now” talks, and “why” talks. Based on these categories, improve the structure of each talk.

About Tamsen Webster

Tamsen Webster is an acclaimed keynote speaker, “idea whisperer,” and change strategist. She combined 20 years in marketing with 13 years as a Weight Watchers leader into a simple structure for understanding, talking about, and creating lasting change. She’s the Executive Director of the oldest and one of the largest locally organized TED talk events in the world, and an in-demand consultant on finding the ideas that move people to action.

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