NACS Show Preview: A Chat With Connie Podesta
LAS VEGAS — For Connie Podesta, professional keynoter and expert in the psychology of human behavior/relations, corporate events are all about getting people to think hard about sales and leadership — sans the usual parts about merchandise and contracts.
Podesta teaches audiences how to look at these topics from a human relations standpoint while paying close attention to their own behaviors, mindsets and attitudes about success. She does this while injecting humor into her speeches and respecting the unique qualities of each audience.
“For 30 years, my life has been spent helping audiences understand why people do what they do and say what they say,” said Podesta, president and founder of Connie Podesta Presents LLC. “I teach them to act, rather than react, when life doesn’t go as planned. Often, they are looking for outside reasons for not achieving the success they want. But generally, the answer lies right within them.”
At the 2015 NACS Show, Podesta will apply her know-how to help convenience store leaders understand how certain attitudes and behaviors may be “getting in the way” of them being more successful, profitable and competitive. While crucial to any industry’s success, these interpersonal skills are rarely taught in the business world. But these concepts are universal, regardless of company type.
On the sales end, every industry wants to retain existing customers while attracting new ones. On the leadership side, managers and employees must develop mutual trust. By creating a healthy work environment, employees feel respected and profits, sales and productivity rises. The result is a win-win for all.
“Sales and leadership cross all the boundaries,” said Podesta. “Whether you’re a big chain or a mom-and-pop, you still must lead by example, create a healthy, fair environment and develop a team that is trustworthy, cooperative and productive. Every convenience store employee, at every level, is in sales. But few have been trained how to sell.
“The owners are in leadership, yet few have had the opportunity to really learn the ins and outs of motivating, coaching and training a diverse workforce,” she added. “They understand the workings of the store, but that doesn’t always mean they have the skills or knowledge to deal with difficult employees or customers.”
MELDING PSYCHOLOGY & COMEDY
Podesta has a bachelor’s degree in Speech, Communications and Business, a master’s degree in Human Relations and Counseling, and was a board-certified Licensed Professional Counselor for more than 25 years. Her experiences include working as a director of human relations and staff development, where she was responsible for training and teaching employees, managers and senior leadership the human relations skills they needed.
Her psychological strategy involves making the individual aware of the power they have within to make a serious difference in their organization.
“I help people look at what they can change, rather than trying to change other people. Too much energy is wasted on discussing things we can’t control. Let’s talk about now. This is what you have to work with and this is what you can do differently. What mindsets and attitudes do you have control over that will make a difference in your company’s future?” she explained.
A natural comedian since childhood, Podesta has performed on TV and other mediums. She incorporates her comedy into each presentation. “I love using my humor as a vehicle for tackling the tougher issues leaders face every day,” she said.
Podesta believes she was born funny. “You can learn to speak better and be more humorous. But for most people who do this, nobody had to teach us.” And while Podesta has benefitted from a formal education, she has an intuitive sense about “what makes people tick.”
She is also a bit different from some speakers in that she invests significant time researching upcoming events and audiences — she even has a pre-program questionnaire for event organizers. And she schedules frequent conference calls with clients.
“I say, ‘Tell me about your year, what you need, what you’re missing, what you want to improve.’ Just like I’d do in therapy, I look at what they need. Companies are in different places. If it’s their worst year ever, you want to talk about not letting it get to them. If it was the best, how do you maintain the momentum?”
BUILDING ON KEY IDEAS
Podesta builds on her core topics of sales and leadership by layering on issues like team building and differentiating from the competition, or around subjects requested by clients. She also takes into account the industry and type of audience.
While Podesta knows what she is going to talk about ahead of time, she does not plan exactly how she is going to do it. Her delivery is extemporaneous, moving with the ebb and flow of the crowd.
“I never know exactly what I’m going to say. Rather than use PowerPoint, I like to read people’s body language. If I can tell they understand my point, then I move immediately to the next topic. If they seem like they want more, I keep going. With PowerPoint, the speaker is confined to a pre-planned speech. And the audience is looking at and connecting with the screen, not the speaker. That’s not my style.”
To keep people engaged, Podesta uses a variety of techniques, including humor, audience interaction and stories. She changes the tempo every few minutes. She also maintains momentum by engaging the audience with one-on-one questions, role plays and comments.
By connecting with and trusting Podesta, the audience becomes more accepting of new thoughts and ideas. The trust factor can be so strong that individuals in the audience “believe” Podesta is speaking to them one on one. This maximizes impact.
“If they don’t believe or trust me, they won’t have the incentive to change. I want them at some point to be unaware there’s thousands of people in the room. I get feedback afterwards where people say, ‘I thought she was only speaking to me.’ That’s when I know I did a good job.”
A GLOBAL CONCEPT
Worldwide, Podesta makes 75 to 80 presentations annually. Sometimes, she is accompanied by an interpreter. Regardless of the country or industry, though, the message is the same.
“In more than 30 years, I don’t think there’s an industry I haven’t spoken to. Some speakers specialize in a specific industry; I specialize in people. There’s nobody who is not involved in people issues. I’m called an organizational therapist. And like a good therapist, I listen and apply psychology.”
This year’s NACS Show marks the third time Podesta has spoken at the event.
“They ask me back because everybody has a great time while they are learning powerful techniques that will change the future of their business. Why should people come to this session? My answer is that there’s no doubt in my mind they’ll gain a better understanding of how to increase profits, sales and market share, improve leadership skills, and lastly how to work as a team. Who wouldn’t want to do all of these things better?”
Some professional speakers are demanding individuals who are absorbed in their own self-worth. Podesta takes the opposite approach, putting the greatest value on the audience.
“I know some speakers can act like they’re stars. To me, the audience is the star. I’m a cog in the wheel and they are the most important part. I’m there for them; they’re not there for me. What do they need and want and what motivates them?
“For an audience to come to my session, they’ve given me the valuable gift of their time. In that hour, they could be doing many other things. That’s very precious to me. And I promise they will be in good hands from the moment I walk on stage.”