Counter Culture Home Edition Ep. 4
Dr. Laura Sicola is a leadership communication and influence expert, speaker, and author of "Speaking to Influence: Mastering Your Leadership Voice."; Rich Ross, TV Comedy Writer for Hollywood Squares, Animal Planet, Phil Hartman, and others; John Carlson, Author, "Rex Riders", a pulp fiction about cowboys and dinosaurs
-Welcome to "Counter Culture,"
a talk show normally in a diner.
This is our Home Edition.
On tonight's Home Edition,
I am joined by author
of "Speaking to Influence" Dr. Laura Sicola.
-You want to be confident,
you want to be approachable and relatable,
and do you want to be authentic.
-Comedy writer and producer, my old pal Rich Ross,
-This opportunity came up in television, and I figured,
you know, let me let me gear myself toward that
more so than the stand up.
-And the author of "Rex Riders," John Carlson.
-I was very inspired by J.K. Rowling.
Her books can be enjoyed by young people and adults equally.
All right here on "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."
Welcome to "Counter Culture,"
a talk show normally coming from a diner.
We can't come to you from Daddypops at the moment,
but we still have our mugs, some good coffee,
and some great conversation with some of the best guests
you'll find anywhere.
So sit back, relax, and enjoy.
-When we listen to speech,
we process it in what are called tone units or chunks.
-Would you like to sound like a leader?
My first guest has coached many clients
and watched them develop into confident
and effective speakers on stage, at the podium,
on TV, radio, you name it.
She's the author of "Speaking to Influence:
Mastering Your Leadership Voice"
and the founder of Vocal Impact Productions
based in Philadelphia.
It's a pleasure to welcome Dr. Laura Sicola
to "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."
Hi, Dr. Laura!
-Good morning, Grover. It's great to be here.
Thanks so much for inviting me.
-Oh, it's a pleasure.
Tell me, you know,
every time you see one of those lists of people's biggest fears,
public speaking is number one. Why is that?
-Yes. What's interesting to me is that
it's not technically a fear of public speaking,
it's a fear of public judgment or public scrutiny.
People are very afraid of making a mistake
and looking foolish in front of others.
The speaking itself is not really the issue.
So once we get out of our own way with regard
to the fear of making a mistake and being penalized for it,
that's when we are able to really take control
and be more confident and more effective,
whether it's on stage, in the boardroom, or anywhere else.
-So you coach folks to improve their speaking,
to be more effective speakers,
and thereby more effective leaders.
But are all great leaders also great speakers?
-So let's define great speaking. Right.
There is the public speaking sense of great speaking,
like we often think of people like Steve Jobs or Tony Robbins
or others who have that stage presence.
And that's terrific.
If you have that, that's only going to help you.
But to be a great leader in general,
you don't necessarily have to have
that masterful stage presence per se,
but you do have to be a good communicator in that
It's not enough just to be the smartest person in the room
or to have a great vision.
You have to be able to get that across
to whoever your audience is,
whether or not they share your technical expertise
and your experience in the industry, et cetera.
And if you can communicate that,
whether you're talking to a roomful of scouts
or a roomful of executives, or an employee,
or on an interview,
whichever side of the table you're on,
that's being a good communicator,
If you can make them get it, that's when you're in.
And that is a critical,
critical skill set for leadership.
-So you're typically brought into coach executives
and management people.
What happens when you come in
and try to improve their speaking?
-One of the biggest challenges that most people have
is that you rise to a certain level in your career
because of your technical expertise,
and then you're supposed to cross
this threshold into "leadership."
And that's a very different skill set.
You're not supposed to be hands on with the work.
You have to be able to communicate with others
in a variety of fields,
from vendors and clients to people in finance,
in I.T., in H.R., in everything else.
So having that expertise that you rose through the ranks with,
you likely suffer from what I call the experts curse,
and that means you don't get why other people don't get it.
You feel like you either get too much detail
and overwhelm the others who don't need, want,
or can't understand all that technical stuff,
or you don't give them enough
because to you it's just obvious.
So how do you figure out, how do you read your audience
and give them the right amount
and the right type of information
so that they can put two and two together
and see your perspective on it?
That's really what I end up helping people to do.
There's what I call the three Cs
that I want to help all my clients master,
and it's the ability to command the room,
connect with the audience, and close the deal.
Commanding the room is being able to capture their attention
and then ultimately hold it.
Connecting with them is helping them
feel like you understand them
and helping them to understand you
and why what you are trying to share with them
is of relevance and ultimate importance to them.
And then closing the deal
is being able to achieve that "Yes,"
getting to the next step in whatever the process is
that you're working towards.
That's closing the deal.
It doesn't have to be just signing on the dotted line.
But if you can master those three Cs,
then that opens up a whole different world for you.
-And in your book, "Speaking to Influence:
Mastering your Leadership Voice,"
do you give some basic tenants
for improving your speaking ability?
There's exercises at the end of each chapter,
and it's very much a how-to book
that's a lot of fun, not just a "here's the theory behind it."
So, for example, with regard to public speaking
and getting over that fear,
I have a four-word secret to confident public speaking,
and it's simply this -- "It's not about you."
You know, we're so worried, like I mentioned before,
about making a mistake. "Everybody is looking at me.
Is going to make a judgment about me.
What if I make a mistake?
What if I forget what I'm going to say?
What if they ask a question I can't answer?
What if, what if, what if?"
Okay, don't go down that death spiral
of what if questions.
The fact is, when you walk into a meeting,
or when someone tunes into this show,
they're not sitting there thinking, "All right,
let me see if I can listen to the guest
and see where they screwed up on something.
I'm going to watch and just ding them
for everything that's wrong."
No, you're showing up
because they want something for themselves.
They're hoping that they're going to enjoy the experience,
that they're going to learn from it,
that they're going to take some value out,
and in the end, feel like, "You know what?
I'm really glad I tuned in. I got something out of that."
All audience members --
and I use the word "audience" very loosely.
It's not just about TV or radio or podcasting.
It's whoever you're talking to --
is all motivated by the same thing --
"What's in it for me?"
Go in it with a mind set of generosity.
Give the audience something that they'll find valuable.
And when most people do that, they think, "I can do that."
"Well, that's not that hard."
And then they get out of their own way
and stop doing the things that would otherwise make people go,
"Oh, ding, ding, ding."
So it's all mind set.
-When you think of great speakers,
who do you think of?
-I think it's important to recognize that a great speaker
is not someone who necessarily has the Tony Robbins-like
overabundance of energy and charisma of that sort.
It's the ability to really connect.
So I mentioned earlier Tony Robbins and Steve Jobs.
Oprah Winfrey is a great speaker.
And of course, there are the greats
who are the standard list, right?
Martin Luther King Jr., and Winston Churchill,
and some of the others.
But, you know, I think that just watching people like Oprah
and seeing what they do when there's an intensity,
there's a quiet focus to what they're saying.
There's a lot of business leaders
who are really inherently compelling
in what they communicate and what they convey to others.
It doesn't have to be in your face.
It doesn't have to be loud.
It just has to be authentic, and meaningful,
and deliberate, and personable, open.
You want to be confident,
you want to be approachable and relatable,
and you want to be authentic.
And you can be authentic and still adjust your approach
from audience to audience.
And that's a balance that really separates
the great speakers from the potentially great speakers.
-And speaking of great speakers,
we have two major presidential candidates, of course,
the incumbent President Trump and then Joe Biden.
How would you discern their speaking style?
-One of the things that I think got President Trump
elected four years ago was his ability to talk
in what I call tweetable and repeatable sound bites.
If you think about his major campaign promises
from back then, they were all super short,
one-syllable words, three or four, and that's it.
Build a wall, make America great again,
lock her up, drain the swamp.
Whatever it was, it was easy and it stuck in your head.
And whether you completely agreed or completely disagreed,
you could talk about it at the water cooler the next morning.
Whereas the Democrats, Hillary Clinton back in 2016,
Joe Biden today. and none of the other candidates
who were up against him so far
on the Democratic side have managed to figure out
what their primary promises are going to be
and get them down to those really simple sound bites.
It can't just be a slogan.
But the idea is, once you have those headlines of sorts,
later on you can explain them.
But right now, most people could not tell you
the difference between Joe Biden and the rest of the candidates
who are on the stage with maybe one or two exceptions
from a policy standpoint.
And that's where he's going to need to really
tighten up his messaging.
If you can distill your message down
to a couple of those takeaways, it helps people remember it,
because if you want people to talk about
what you're talking about later on,
they're not going to remember the other two hours
worth of stuff that you said.
And if you want them to distill it...
If you can't do it, how can they?
and I encourage folks who want to improve
their speaking to check out your book,
"Speaking to Influence: Mastering the Leadership Voice."
It's been a pleasure to speak with you.
-It's been an honor to be on the show, Grover.
Thank you so much for inviting me.
-Thanks, Dr. Laura.
Dr. Laura Sicola,
a voice coach who teaches speakers to speak the speech,
trippingly on the tongue, as Mr. Shakespeare once advised.
-My next guest isn't just an old friend,
but also a comedy writer.
I collaborated with him in Philadelphia
producing one TV program after another
way back in the fabulous '80s.
We were even able to rack up a couple of Emmys in the process.
Since then, he moved to Los Angeles
and has written for shows such as "Hollywood Squares"
and dozens of other programs and projects.
-Please welcome my buddy writer/producer Mr. Rich Ross.
-Hello, Rich. -Grover!
-It's like old times. -Please to --
-It is. What we need is a telephone
because we spend most of our time on the phone
for hours about what we did in the past.
-Yeah, we met back in the early '80s.
You were working for KYW-TV 3 in Philadelphia.
You are a Philadelphian. -Born and raised in Philly.
-I think you know that if it was not
for Ted Kennedy, we would not have met.
-Really? How so?
-Yes. Maury Povich wanted somebody
who could do this impersonation on a live --
for a live sketch on a show called "People are Talking."
And they wanted somebody who could do an impersonation
that would, I think, be coming through a radio
on this particular sketch.
Went for the audition, got the audition,
and turned that into an internship.
And that's where you and I met.
-Wow. And, yeah, you had only recently
graduated from Temple University, I believe.
-Yes, I went to Bucks County College
and Temple University as well.
Majored in radio, television and film, as you did.
-Comedy was always your focus, right?
-Yeah. Comedy was always the focus.
All the time.
Going back to when I was a little kid doing impersonations.
Did a lot of stand up, actually.
I remember doing stand up and seeing you on the bill
at Stars before you and I had ever met,
and an opportunity -- this opportunity
came up in television, and I figured, you know,
let me gear myself toward that
more so than the stand up.
And the rest is history, as they say.
-Back in the late '80s, you moved to California
and started working on different shows,
writing comedy jokes, bits.
You worked for "Hollywood Squares."
What was that like?
-The best job I think I've had out here.
-You basically had to write around
between 60 and 80 jokes a week, and they were all compiled
and then dealt out to the different celebrities
for that particular week's show.
We would tape three --
actually a week's worth of shows in three days.
And the wonderful thing was everybody was assigned,
every writer was assigned to a specific celebrity.
And I was assigned to some great celebrities.
The first week I was there, sort of a hazing --
and I didn't realize how bad this would have been.
They assigned me to Zsa Zsa Gabor and Eva Gabor,
which was very, very interesting to say the least.
-Who authored the phrase, "All men are created equal?"
-I did not. [ Laughter ]
-I think it was Abraham Lincoln.
-When a writer was assigned to a specific celebrity,
that writer would go over his jokes
with that particular celebrity, work on the timing,
work on the bluffs.
The writers even even wrote the bluffs on that show.
-And you've written all kinds of comedy,
what is the most challenging and what is your favorite type?
Like, there's monologues, there's sketch material,
there are one-liners.
The most difficult, I think, is sitcoms.
They're not the most fun, in my opinion,
but they're the most challenging
because there's a lot of dialogue
that isn't necessarily joke, joke, joke, joke.
It's just dialogue to get you from point A to point B,
which really isn't something that is very pleasurable to me.
-I like writing real head-on jokes
where you have the setup and the punch,
setup and the punch, setup and the punch.
That those are the kind of things that I enjoy writing.
Writing little sketches is also fun.
I was lucky enough to write two of Phil Hartman's NBC specials,
which was a lot of fun.
He was a great guy to work with, extremely humble guy.
You would never, ever know that he was a big star, ever.
-There are two types of writers in comedy --
those who collaborate and those who work on their own.
The comedy writers for the talk shows are usually individuals
who then get together and compare notes.
But in sitcoms, it's usually a team.
And then the team comes up with a script
and then the script is tabled
in which all of these people have their say,
change it, hone it, sharpen it, whatever.
-Right. And that's that takes a lot of getting used to.
-I wrote for a few sitcoms,
and tabling can be can be very tedious.
You're working a lot of times till 2:00 in the morning.
A lot of times lines get changed
and you have to really get used to that.
And it's not...
Most the time, it's really nothing that is personal.
Scripts are sent to the network executives,
and they change things.
So it's very rare that you write a script
and have a big percentage of that actually in the script.
The only times that I was really lucky enough to write
and have almost 100 percent of what I wrote
stay in the show is when my writing partner and I
at the time were writing a show called
"The Planet's Funniest Animals."
We wrote about 150 episodes of that show.
And they just basically -- the production company
just let us basically do what we wanted to do,
and 100 percent of the stuff got in, and that's rare.
That's a lot of fun when that happens.
-I know we're all quarantined in right now.
Hopefully you've got your next project lined up
and ready to go.
I know you're always working on something.
-So a lot of reality-based comedy, which is big right now.
And it'll be interesting to see how being home
with this quarantine will change programming.
Will shows look more like this?
Will a lot of them start to be out of the studio like this?
It'll be interesting to see.
-It will. Well, I know one thing.
And however, it turns out, you'll be writing it.
Thanks, Rich, it is great to see you
and sort of walk down memory lane.
[ Chuckles ]
-Absolutely. Grove. Great to be with you.
And I'd like to just show you this.
This is from one of the shows that we did.
-[ Laughs ] One of our shows, that's right.
"Laughing in the New Year... Again."
Rich Ross, a comedy writer
who takes funny business seriously.
-My next guests saw "King Kong," the movie, as a kid.
He wasn't afraid -- he was enamored,
the same for dinosaurs and other monsters,
and perhaps that's why he became an attorney.
Yet while practicing law,
his creative instincts never wavered,
and he went back to his roots and pulled out a story
that only he could have written --
"Rex Riders," an action-packed novel in which cowboys
ride rip-roaring prehistoric creatures.
It's a cool story and so much fun to read.
Please welcome another old pal and author,
Mr. John Carlson.
John, how are you?
-Hi, Grover. It's great to be here.
Thank you for having me. -My pleasure. My pleasure.
You always had an interest in dinosaurs,
monsters, King Kong, as I mentioned.
Is that what led you to write "Rex Riders"?
-It did. I was a very big genre movie fan as a boy,
and I really enjoyed "King Kong" and "Son of Kong"
and "Mighty Joe Young"
and films that featured special effects by Ray Harryhausen.
As a boy, I really couldn't get enough of them.
And I gravitated toward comic books
that involved monsters and also superheroes.
And that was the kind of the background reading
that I did as a boy, including monster magazines
and things like that.
And I never lost my affection for those movies
and the people who created them.
-And you became a creator yourself.
And this is the book. Look at that beautiful cover.
Tell us a little bit, without giving it away,
the plot, the story line, and some of the characters.
-It's really a story about a boy
who comes to live with his uncle.
And his uncle is a rancher,
and a not very successful rancher
in a small community in Texas.
There are mysterious goings on in town
involving a very successful cattle rancher.
He seems to be hiring people with unusual experience.
The townspeople see them at the local saloon
and then they don't see them again.
In the meantime, there's construction on his ranch
and he seems to be building these enormous stalls far larger
than anything you would need for cattle,
which intrigues everybody in town.
No one seems to know what he's up to
and he's not telling anyone.
And the story unfolds from there.
This rancher has discovered, accidentally, a portal
to another world and another civilization
and has a very ambitious plan to bring animals
from that environment back to Texas.
By opening this portal,
he exposes himself and his community
and everybody that lives there to all kinds of dangers
that nobody could have foreseen.
-I thought it was very interesting
because in the very beginning of the book,
it feels like really an old-fashioned Western
and, you know, all the traditional characters.
The ranch owner, the uncle,
the nephew who comes to live with them.
You know, they're right out of the classic Western.
And then all of a sudden, a triceratops
emerges out of nowhere and attacks a stagecoach,
and it goes on from there. Amazing!
-Where the animal came from and how it arrives there
is a mystery,
and the only person who seems intent on solving it
is this rancher in town
who takes possession of the remains of the dinosaur
and is determined to find out where it came from.
Other people in town are less interested.
To them, it was a threat and it's disposed of,
and they really don't have any particular interest
in finding out where it came from.
But again, this rancher who is a very ambitious person in town,
is determined to solve this mystery.
Interestingly, the person most determined to solve the mystery
is not the hero.
It's someone else who has ambitions that go well beyond
what he's doing in the community.
-It's a great story for old coyotes like myself
and young adults.
Who did you have in mind when you wrote it?
-I have to say that I was very inspired
by J.K. Rowling's books.
Her books can be enjoyed by young people as young as eight
or nine, middle graders, young adults, and adults equally.
And I really wanted to create a story
that had the same broad appeal.
-There's a lot of action, and yet there's nothing in there
that a parent would object to.
-You know, that's a very important element
when you're writing for children,
although young adult lit can be very provocative.
I felt that wasn't really where I wanted to take this book.
I wanted to keep it something that middle graders
could pick up and read.
And I was very surprised when a local school district
picked it up for their summer reading program.
It was extremely flattering,
and I think it says a lot
about the appropriateness of the book for young people,
even in an educational environment.
It's gotten some some really lovely reviews
from the Dinosaur Society, Smithsonian, Voya.
It won the 2011 Book of the Year for juvenile fiction
from Foreword Reviews. The cover is an award winner.
I am fortunate that it received this recognition
and very grateful for it.
-You have the e-book is coming out
that is in full color.
So some of these amazing, fantastic creatures
and their actions are captured
through the amazing illustrations of your artists.
-The hardcover version, which has been on sale
for a number of years, was done in black and white.
And we really wanted to add another element to the book,
and coloring the images professionally
and including an extras section
where we show more of the artwork
that the artists who were involved in the production
of the book created, it has given us an opportunity
to really create something special.
And that book is out now.
-And some of the artwork, describe some of it.
-The cover itself is by a fantastic paleo illustrator,
Fabio Pastori, who's a resident of Italy,
and he's just superb.
And he created a gallery of illustrations for us
when we were pitching this as an animated television series.
And our interior illustrator, Jim Calafiore,
who's worked for Marvel and DC,
has contributed a couple of other sketches
that we've included in the extras section as well.
It's a really nice showcase for their talents
and their extraordinary illustrations.
-And when our show airs,
your e-book will be out and available for young and old.
-Yes, it will. And it's so exciting
to be on the show and to have the release
of that e-book coincide with the broadcast.
It's a wonderful thing.
Thank you for having me.
-And you know what? Not only are you a great writer,
but the way you've been able to market your book
has been nothing short of astounding.
-Thank you for the compliments.
I want to share something that I've created for you.
I hope you'll consider it for the show.
It's a Grover Silcox toaster.
It's been branded with your image.
And I'm calling it The Groster.
It's kind of a contraction, your name and toaster.
And, you know, maybe we can talk about it off air
and I can get you on an infomercial.
-Sure, it'll go great with the mug.
It's your marketing genius
that is going to put my career in high gear.
And boy, it's about time, huh?
Thank you, John.
John Carlson, a writer
who enjoys bringing people and monsters together.
-Well, that's "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."
For this evening,
I want to thank my guests for joining me,
author of "Speaking to Influence,"
Dr. Laura Sicola,
comedy writer Rich Ross,
and the author "Rex Riders," Mr. John Carlson.
Thank you for checking in with us this Tuesday
for "Counter Culture: The Home Edition."
Don't forget to stop by next Tuesday for a whole new show
with great guests and great conversation.