From church minister to keynote speaker, via poetry and exciting PR projects with the Finland tourist board. MG meets the king of engagement Scott Gould for a chat about – you guessed it – engaging with your audience, and how you can utilise this skill both in and out of the workplace…
Ha! What an opening question! One of my personal values is authenticity, so it actually takes me a lot of courage to say that’s what I do. I’m sure any one person could find at least two responsibilities within their job, a third is not that hard to imagine, and then a personal passion – that’s four! But to straight up answer your question, there is plenty I don’t do! These are just four that I can’t deny. I do them whether I want to or not, they just seem to flow out of me.Out of the four roles listed above, do you have a favourite?
Easily speaking. It is a privilege to get to stand before a group of people and share your idea, and in my case, that means setting myself on fire (metaphorically speaking, not literally we hope 😉 – Editor.) with my passion for people, and inspiring them with new ways of looking at things.Take us back to where it all started… what was your first ever job like?
My first bit of work was actually designing a website for the world’s largest supplier of tractor parts, back in 1999. I had spent two weeks there on work experience as part of my high school curriculum, and because they had a bad website I simply suggested I created a brand new one for them (again, remember this is 1999 – most people didn’t have much those days). They liked what I did in those two weeks of work experience, so they asked me to work over the summer holiday and help them.Ah, the good old days, do you remember anything else about your life back then?
I remember they only paid me 60 GBP a week, 9-5, yet as a teenager I could live like a king. It was the summer that Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace came out, so I’d watch it at the cinema every week. Shortly after that I got a Saturday job working in GAP. What happened next is the answer to your next question…The one where you tell us how you came to be a globe-trotting keynote speaker?
That’s the one! After I finished studying at 18 years old, I did the usual thing of applying to university, but it didn’t work out. I was very arrogant and didn’t get to go to where I wanted to go, and so instead I started my own little project. The project was working with kids in my city. I ran a monthly talent evening, designed to try and raise the ambitions of local kids, and so I included in the event schedule a short talk that I would give. I’d had a little bit of public speaking experience at 16 years old in my local youth church, but now I was to stand on a stage in front of an audience.
I remember preparing for my first one so clearly – I stole the whole talk idea from a Tony Robbins tape I had – and then delivered it pretty much verbatim. At one moment, when the crowd failed to laugh at a joke that had received thunderous applause on the recording, I actually said to the audience ‘well, people laughed at the joke on tape!’ It was terrible.
But despite my failures (of which there’s many), I kept going at speaking. It just seemed to be something that no matter how well or bad I felt I had done, at least one person always came up to me afterwards and said it helped. This stayed true as I went into events, was a creative director, and then was the same when I was a church minister (that was what I used to be, actually!). I also went on to be a lecturer. So much of my career has centred around my ability to communicate well, even if I felt I didn’t.
Valuing the time and attention of your audience, and rewarding it with two things: the first is your honesty, and the second is a pure idea that is memorable and usable. That’s why people love speakers like Seth Godin and Brené Brown – they just say it as it is, and that transforms people’s worlds – which is the biggest thing you can hope for as a speaker.Can you explain the rules of engagement in one tweet (140 characters)?
It’s all about unity. Find out what you share in common, gather people around that, and do something with that that matters. Don’t think ‘me’. Don’t think ‘you’. Think ‘we’.Why should the readers of this blog buy your book?
What they – or rather you, dear reader! – will get from reading The Shape of Engagement is a whole bunch of a-ha! moments and ideas that’ll help you engage people, employees, customers, community members, and the like. And, given that life and success is pretty much dependent on getting people to be onboard and engaged with us, AND, given we rarely actually train for such a skill, then this book could change your life. Could, I say, and hope!What companies (or brands) are the best at engaging with their audiences and why?
The best are the ones who, interestingly, have an engaged audience ASIDE from their social media presence. For instance, I’m clueless about what Apple is doing on social media, but I’m not buying anything that’s computer-related from anyone else, that’s for sure! I’m engaged because of what they stand for, because of the quality of the product, because of how it matters to my life and to my identity. THAT is engagement. It’s when being a customer of yours means something. Real engagement is when the brand lives with you and in you.
Think of any brand that has a strong following, and you’ll find customers who are engaged in the brand, not an audience engaged in a moment. And, you’ll find customers to whom it means something to be a part of that brand. Nike. Apple. Patagonia. Omega. Swatch. Tesla. Louis Vuitton. American Express. Adobe. Lego. The list goes on. Why does someone go to McDonalds and not Burger King? It’s not the social media ads or such, it’s because of which brand the person resonates with.Which project – business or pleasure – are you most proud of completing and why?
It would be putting together the social media strategy for the Finland Tourist Board back in 2010. I was privileged to take a swat team of a dozen cracking thinkers to a villa on a lake and spend a day thrashing through ideas with the tourist board, and then I went away and wrote it up into a strategy. The level that we were working at was incredible, and Finland was the perfect country to work on because they already had such a clear brand image.What are your thoughts on artificial intelligence and how do you feel it will affect our level of engagement in years to come?
Well, our desire for deep, honest, meaningful relationships will never change. Yes, we will become lazier with attention, expect a greater level of ease and convenience, and all that stuff – BUT – we will not lose our desire for real engagement. So if brands want to succeed, that’s where to go!
Scientist! The idea of discovering things just blew me away. I also wanted to be a teacher, after watching Dead Poets Society. I guess I got to do a bit more of the latter! And, maybe one day, I’ll be seen as someone who discovered something about engagement.What’s your most hated industry buzzword?
Probably ‘engagement’! Which is ironic, given it’s my word. But I do find it’s very overused and seldom understood.What keeps you up at night?
I was gong to say ‘nothing’, as I sleep like a log, except in hotel rooms, where I struggle to get a solid night’s sleep. But, then I remembered that I’ve been up recently fretting about my own work and whether it’s simple enough and engaging enough. I am my own worst critic and constantly overthink.What’s your proudest personal accomplishment?
It’s when I look at the back cover of my book and see the endorsements that people were willing to give me.If you could listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Easy! Like a Stone, by Audioslave… with the haunting vocals of the late Chris Cornell. I actually want this song played at my funeral, and a twist on the chorus as my epitaph. Seriously: I have that stuff in my will. I am a poet, after all.What are your hobbies outside of work?
Playing with my family, writing / reading poetry, enjoying a sip of whisky, and watching deep, soul-penetrating films. My friend has a slogan ‘If it’s not meaningful, count me out!’, and I tend to apply that to everything in life.What was the best piece of advice you were ever given?
‘Life is made up of seasons. Give yourself to the season you’re in.’What role has religion played in your life?
Well, in addition to being raised Christian, I used to be a church minister, so religion has played a huge role in my life… it was my whole life, in fact! I was a very passionate minister, so I would be up early in the morning to pray and study the bible for hours, visit congregation members all day, and preaching stirring sermons on a Sunday. I loved it. It taught me everything I know about people and how engagement works, simply because I got to meet so many different people in that role, with my whole job depending on my ability to get people engaged! Even now, no longer a minister, and to be honest with a different set of beliefs that I had then, I still cherish that time, and find that the experience helped me massively.What’s your coolest ever work trip?
In February of this year I got to visit Baku, Azerbaijan – most famous for the Grand Prix and Eurovision. But I found it to be a fascinating city, as it blended European, Russian and Middle Eastern culture together, which I believe is a rare combination. The people there are incredibly hospitable, and there’s some really cool architecture, too. Finally, I had never felt so adored as a speaker! Everyone was taking selfies with me, so for a brief moment in time, I was a star!If you had one super power, what would it be?
Time travel. I wouldn’t even want to change anything, just get to meet all the wonderful people from history and know what they were REALLY like, you know?What’s your favourite country to visit?
Ah, Italia! My honeymoon was there, and I just love everything about the country; the language, the literature, the food, the culture, the climate, the land, the people… everything! If you are reading this, run events, and are in Italy, please invite me to come and speak! I’ll even waive my speaker fee!Finally, what’s your life motto?
It’s all about people, ‘cos it is.
#ScottSays How to instantly engage with anyone…
Talk about their favourite subject… and what is everyone’s favourite subject? Themselves – the things they love, they care about, that are meaningful to them. How? Ask questions – scatter them! What questions? Questions about them based on what you notice and what you likely have in common. Why? Because commonality is the liquid gold of engagement. Gather around that commonality! By connecting to them through things that you have in common, you experience a sense of unity with each other. Now you can introduce something new to the conversation, and they are far more likely to receive it from you. You could make a request, introduce a new idea, make an offer for a service, or my favourite – make a friend. In other words, make the conversation matter!
As a keynote speaker, I talk about why engagement matters, and how it works
As an author, I wrote a book about – quelle surprise – engagement
As a poet, I engage with myself and the world around me, and put that into words. Below is my latest work
It is torment to live in this mind,
That is the tempest between day and night:
There is no break, nor a place to unwind, for my good days are not free, just respite.
All my life I’ve been in a civil war,
A bloody battle neither side will concede,
That as long as I breathe I’m subscribed for,
And death, my only course to liberty. I would happily live life but for this;
The incessant splinter stuck in my mind.
The battle without victory, endless,
The tempest renewed, at every twilight,
These perils tormenting me even now,
That I cannot escape, though I know how.