in: People, Podcast, Social Skills

• Last updated: July 2, 2023

Podcast #211: Difficult Conversations, Small Talk, and Charisma

A few months ago, I did a podcast with Frances Cole Jones, author of How to WowIt was all about how to put your best foot forward in any social or business situation so you can give a persuasive pitch, nail the job interview, or romance that gal you’ve had your eye on.

At the end of the show, Frances invited listeners to go to her site to use the “Ask a Question” form to ask her any question they had about personal presentation and social skills. She was inundated with great queries from AoM podcast listeners.

So, I thought it would be fun (and useful) to bring Frances back on the show to answer some of the questions you all asked her and I think we’ll bring her back every quarter or so to answer more.

In today’s show, Frances answers questions about how to develop charisma, how to deal with difficult conversations in work and in life, and how to handle insecurities — like a stutter or feeling like you’re too short. There’s a lot of great, actionable advice in this podcast to up your social game.

Show Highlights

  • What is charisma?
  • How to be charismatic when giving a presentation
  • How to be charismatic during one-on-one conversations
  • How to communicate with your eyes
  • How to avoid “he said, she said” conversations
  • How to clarify conversational misunderstandings without it being awkward
  • How to take the tension out of difficult conversations
  • How to stay in a conversation that you feel is flagging
  • How you transition to a different conversation topic smoothly
  • Why you should ask “What do you do in your free time?” instead of “What do you for a living?”
  • What to do when you say something that bombs in a conversation
  • How to cope with anxiety during a job interview
  • How to deal with a stutter
  • What to do if you feel like you’re too tall or too short
  • And much more!

Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast

How to Wow book cover Frances Cole Jones.

If you haven’t already, check out Frances’ book How to Wow. It’s one of the best books on social skills and salesmanship that I’ve come across.

And if you’d like to ask Frances a question about personal presentation, you can do so here. She’ll respond personally to your question and we might use it in a future “Ask Frances” podcast segment.

Connect With Frances

Frances’ website

Frances on Twitter

Frances on Facebook

Tweet Frances’ “Thanks” for being on the podcast.

Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)

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Read the Transcript

Brett McKay: Brett McKay here and welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. A few months ago, we had a guest on the show. Her name was Frances Cole Jones. She’s the author of the book “How to Wow. Proven Strategies for Selling Your Brilliant Self in Any Situation”. Great Podcast, if you haven’t listened to it yet, go check it out. It’s Podcast number 164. Frances, she makes her living coaching high level executives and other media personalities on how to put their best foot forward in business situations or if they’re going to be on TV or on the radio. We got a lot of great feedback on that show. She provided a lot of great tips on job interviews, negotiations, social skills, small talk, etc. She got into that.

At the end of the show she invited our listeners to go to her website where she has a form where you can ask her any question when it comes to personal presentation in your professional or personal life. You know, how to make small talk, what should you wear to a job interview? How do you prepare for a job interview? Things like that and she was flooded with questions and she said, she emailed me back and said I got a lot of great questions and I thought it would be you know what? This would be a great idea for you bring Frances back onto the show to answer some of these questions that you all asked her because I figure if one guy had that question, there’s probably two or three dozen other guys who have that same question.

We’re going to make this a regular thing. She got a lot. We were only able to cover a few in this episode. I’m going to call it “Ask Frances” and we’re going to answer some of the questions you asked her several months ago. Today the themes we hit on today are how to deal with difficult conversations, or power struggles in the work place; how to deal when you’re having small talk and you feel like the conversation is lagging, or maybe you throw something out there and it just sort of bombs. Everyone just is silent. How do you deal with that situation?

Then we also talk about how you deal with those things you might be self-conscious about that whenever you’re interacting with others. If you have a stutter, how do you handle that with grace and charm? What do you do if you feel like you’re too tall? We also talk about specific things you can do to be more charismatic in both your professional and personal life. Great episode and again, after the show check out the show notes. You will find that at AOM.IS/Jones and you can also visit her site at where you can ask her another question so we can bring that up the next time we do this. Without further ado, Frances Cole Jones on basically being your best self in whatever situation you find yourself in.

Frances Cole Jones, welcome back to the show.

Frances Jones: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Brett McKay: We had you on a few months ago to talk about your book “How to Wow”. It’s all about presentation in the workplace, your personal life so you give your best possible impression. At the end of the show, first off the show was well received. I mean you got a lot of great feedback from it, but at the end of the show you invited our listeners to go to your website and you have a place where they can submit questions about any topic about presentation, charisma, body language, professional dress, etc. and you were just overwhelmed with the amount of questions, awesome questions that AOM Podcast listeners had for you.

We thought it would be fun; you and I discussed this, to bring you back every now and then because you had so many questions about a wide variety of topics to bring you back and discuss some of these questions. I think if one or two of these listeners had that question, there’s probably thousands or hundreds that have the same question, so that’s what we’re going to do. I think we’ll have you on every quarter or so to discuss about how to wow and the specifics of it.

Frances Jones: That you. You know I agree. I loved all the questions that I got and I really do. I put that proposal out all the time, but it’s a testament to your listeners that they took me up on it because they did. All the questions do roll to my phone and I do answer every single one of them. It might take me a little bit, but I do. I just, I really it’s one of the great, great pleasures and privileges of what I do.

Brett McKay: That’s great. There was some common themes that came up and we’ll hit on a few of them today and some of the specific questions about these common themes. One common theme was charisma and how to access charisma, but before we get to the specific questions about charisma because the one question that happened over and over again was many people believe you are either born with charisma or you aren’t. Is this true.

Frances Jones: No.

Brett McKay: Right, no so it’s something that you can cultivate it and if so, how? Before we answer that question, how do you define charisma? What are we shooting for?

Frances Jones: To me charisma is that quality that makes you say ooh, I’m so happy I’m going to be seeing so and so, or wow, I’m really engrossed in this conversation. It has nothing to do with looks and it has nothing to do with your bank account, and nothing to do with what you’re wearing. It’s just that quality of passion and curiosity. It’s kind of a mix of the two things.

Brett McKay: Okay, if you’re not born with it, how do you cultivate it?

Frances Jones: Well there are a few things that you can do. I mean one of the things … First of all I just want to say if you spoke to some people do say, “Oh, but I’ve been told I don’t have any charisma.” You don’t have, maybe you don’t have it. Maybe you haven’t accessed it yet, but let’s definitely say yet because it is possible for everyone. I think if you’re doing a presentation, the way to make yourself charismatic is to say to yourself, why do I have to tell this story? What about it is so desperately important to me? That needs to be added into why does my audience have to hear this? Why is hearing this going to make their life better?

What happens is very often when people do presentations they’re very good with the fun times. They’re very clear on why I have to tell this story, but they’re not clear on why their audience has to hear it. That piece of really and truly this will make your life better and I’m going to tell you how. There’s that piece of it for presentations.

Then I think it’s always really good to explain how did it transform my life. What that does is it gets you into a story telling mode. Story telling is so much more interesting than what’s known in my business is useless modifiers. It’s just really great. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. Nothing happens in my brain. How did it transform your life and how will it transform your listeners’ life? Those are two things to think about with presentations.

In terms of just one-on-one encounters if you’re feeling nervous about it, a great trick that I use a lot is imagine that the person you’re meeting is a reporter. Say to yourself, okay what three words if I was going to read an article about myself after this meeting, what three words would I want the reporter to use to describe me? Would I want that person to say that I’m curious or I’m passionate, or I’m sympathetic? Whatever it might be, but pick three attributes that you really want to embody while you’re speaking to them.

What’s nice about that is it really does give you a focus for staying present for the person you’re speaking to.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I think you talked about in the last podcast you had, part of charisma is just being fully present with the person.

Frances Jones: And listening, people listen kind of one of two ways. They listen to either interrupt, or they listen to you know get. They interject their own story. They either want to negate or they want to turn the conversation back to them, but I think when you’re really listening to somebody, asking them things like how did that make you feel? Wow, that sounds like it’s something that was really hard for you. The person you’re talking to is just like, “Oh my God. You’re right, it was really hard for me.” All of a sudden again, they leave that encounter and they’re like oh my goodness, so and so is so charismatic.

Brett McKay: Is there anything with your body language that you can convey that you are present? Everyone talks about Bill Clinton. He has this sort of magic ability to make that one person in the room feel like they’re the only person in the room.

Frances Jones: I think this comes back to eye communication which again, is above and beyond eye contact which is just you know kind of not at all the same thing. It’s really staying with that person and keeping … You know you’ve been at different parties and had different encounters where the person is kind of talking to you and kind of looking over your shoulder to see if someone more interesting is walking in the room. It is that person who just stays with you and really looks into your eyes. One of the things that I talk about, there is a school of thought that says when you really want to persuade somebody about something, then you look into their left eye as you are talking. That is the way you can persuade of whatever it is.

Brett McKay: What’s going on there? Why the left eye?

Frances Jones: Well you know people, you might have to roll with this a little bit because some people think this is kooky, but there is a school of thought that the right side of your body is fire and the left side of your body is water. This is the whole Yin Yang thing. It’s an ayurvedic thing. If you’re looking into somebody’s left eye, you’re looking into that softer, more fluid, more accepting and receptive part.

The opposite is true. When you’re finished being persuasive and you just need them to do whatever it is that you need them to do, if you want to command somebody about something, look into their right eye. Now you know there are a lot of people who are listening to this and thinking she’s completely off her rocker.

Brett McKay: Right.

Frances Jones: You know, I get that. I guess the only thing I can do is I can invite you to see if it works for you. Certainly it’s a trick that, or a tool let’s say, that I use all the time. It also just is really helpful in keeping you focused. If you’re looking with both of your eyes at their left eye, you can say with them. You’re going to stay present in a very different way.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I can see that being useful in that way. Just for that it gives you something to focus on instead of wandering around your eyes, but yeah so I’m going to challenge AOM listeners right now.

Frances Jones: Check it out.

Brett McKay: Go out and do the left eye thing and write Frances a note saying this is completely kooky Frances, or hey Frances it worked. Tweet it out to me because I would like to hear the responses as well. Accessing charisma is like giving that passionate why and being able to articulate it.

Frances Jones: Passion and curiosity.

Brett McKay: Passion and curiosity and just being fully and completely present with the person whether you’re just one-on-one or even when you’re giving a presentation to a larger group.

Frances Jones: Yes.

Brett McKay: Okay, so there you go, accessing charisma. Another theme that came up with the questions received was how to have difficult conversations both professionally and in your personal life whether it’s your children, or spouse, etc. One question was kind of the personal life side is how do you stay out of the he said she said conversations that often pop up?

Frances Jones: Right, I think, I mean again, this is personal life and with friends and in the workplace, first thing I want you to do if it is, is once you finish a conversation write that person a note. I know it sounds crazy, but the minute you get it in an email and say, “You know as we discussed this afternoon, X is going to be happening. I will be handling Y. You will be handling Z,” whatever it might be. You’ve got to have a paper trail. It’s critical particularly in your workplace because if you don’t have that paper trail then everybody again can go back to like, “No, no. That’s not how I remember it.” That doesn’t help you at all.

The other thing that is really important with he said she said is not to get into a feelings based conversation. It really needs to be a fact based conversation. If someone, you know if you’re talking to somebody, “But when you do that I feel like,” this and this whatever it might be. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, don’t want any part of that. At that point what I recommend you say is, “I think the most important piece for me right now is to get clarity on your expectations of me.” You want no part of how they feel about anybody else. It’s just what is this person expect from you in this moment that you can now achieve?

The other thing you know not so much in a one-on-one encounter, but if you are in a workplace situation with your boss or at a lunch or anything like that the minute that you take out a notebook and you start writing down what people are saying, people get very focused on this is actually what I want to say rather than be meandering down some kind of crazy feelings based emotional turmoil situation. A notebook is super useful.

Again, one of the other places I highly recommend having your notebook in hand is any time you’re dealing with a doctor, or a doctor’s appointment for yourself or anyone else because it’s so very easy to be overwhelmed with emotion and not be listening and not be present. Just make sure you have that.

Brett McKay: Let’s say you’re doing a phone call and you want to make the person aware. You don’t want to say I’m recording this conversation because that just puts them-

Frances Jones: Right.

Brett McKay: They get defensive-

Frances Jones: Sure.

Brett McKay: -but you still want to let them understand you’re going to follow up with them so you can avoid those, like what would be sort of a clean way of doing that?

Frances Jones: I think this can come down to tone. In the most upbeat way imaginable say, “I love what you’re saying and I think it’s so important, so what I’m going to do is I’m going to take notes while we’re talking and then I’m going to type up my understanding of what we discussed and I’m going to send that on over to you.”

Brett McKay: Perfect, I like that so you can avoid that whole thing, “Well you said this on the phone.” Then it also takes out, reduces the risk of being like misunderstanding that can happen over the telephone right?

Frances Jones: Right.

Brett McKay: Someone says something with a tone and it might not actually mean what the tone conveyed. It allows them to correct themselves or clarify.

Frances Jones: Yeah and people again, people do the minute you say, “I’m going to be taking”. It’s not may I. You’re not asking permission. “I’m going to be taking some notes while we talk because this is really important.” You want to give them the because behind why you’re doing it. Not because I don’t trust you, or because you always say one thing and do another, because this is so important I’m going to be taking some notes while we’re talking.

Brett McKay: Awesome. Let’s say you have this conversation and there’s some misunderstanding and you need to go back and clean up that misunderstood conversation. How do you double back to an earlier conversation that you might have had and say, “Look I thought there was some static here. Could we revisit this?” without it being awkward I guess?

Frances Jones: I think that you always want to say, “I feel like” take the onus on yourself. “I feel like there was some misunderstanding around our earlier conversation. I’m just not completely clear so what I’d like to do is double back into it and make sure that I again really understand your expectations of me and also know that you have clarity on what I’m going to be doing going forward.” Always take the onus for any kind of mishmash on yourself.

Brett McKay: Yeah, don’t say, “Well you were unclear.”

Frances Jones: Yeah, that always ends poorly.

Brett McKay: Right. I think one of the things that makes difficult conversations difficult is the emotion that’s in the situation, or perceived emotion that’s in the situation because often I found with difficult conversations I’m the one that’s thinking there’s a lot of emotion and tension there and the other person is completely oblivious to that tension or emotion. What are some good ways of taking out the emotion of difficult conversations?

Frances Jones: I think what usually happens is that people get really focused on what they want and they either don’t articulate or you just don’t happen to know the why behind why they want it does that. What you really need to do is get underneath the what. There are a few ways to do that. If someone’s like, “I have to do this on this day.” “Okay, what I’d like to do is I’d like to hear a little bit more about what’s important to you.” A few questions that I always ask at that moment is, “Can we unpack that a little bit? Can you tell me a little bit more about why this is important because I want to make sure I understand.” Or, “Can we dig underneath this? I can hear that it’s important. I’ve taken that in, but I really want to learn a little bit more about why it’s important.”

What that does is sometimes underneath the demand, the what, people actually feel much more similarly than you might imagine. It’s getting underneath that initial kind of the power struggle or the demand for something.

The other thing that I think can be really helpful in those moments is just to say, “You know I need this,” or “This needs to happen.” “Okay what would that look like for you?” You can think that you know. Such a silly example, someone can say I need you to do the laundry. Okay, so to one person that means you separate the lights and the darks and you put it on cold, or whatever it might be. The other person is like I’m just getting it done. I’m heaving everything in the washing machine. People end up with very different results in this moment.

Asking “What is it going to look like for you?” or, “Having this happen, what is this going to provide for you?” because sometimes when we know what it’s going to provide for somebody we’re like okay, I get it that it’s important. You don’t seem as unreasonable anymore. Those are a couple of good questions.

Brett McKay: Then what do you do after you get those answers. Let’s say you ask the why and you understand where they’re coming from, but still you’re like, “But still, I can’t jive with that.” There’s competing interest or it’s just not congruent. How do you?

Frances Jones: I think again it’s a matter of saying to them, “Look I do, I get why this is important to you and I understand the rationale for your request, but what I’m going to do is ask you to show me the same courtesy and understand why I’m coming at it from the place I’m coming at it and why this is as important to me.” Again, sometimes they haven’t even begun to tune in to the why behind why you’re making the request, and/or maybe you didn’t spell it out that clearly.

Brett McKay: Okay, that makes sense. Another common theme was social anxiety, just being uncomfortable in social situations whether it’s one-on-one conversation at let’s say a party, or on a date, or doing a job interview. I mean that’s a social situation that can produce a peak anxiety because you’re on the spotlight so let’s talk about just general conversation. One question an AOM listener asked you what are three ways to stay in a conversation you feel is flagging?

Frances Jones: Well there are a couple of different things that I always like to do. I think that you can always say, “You know I’d love to get your opinion on this.” because I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love to give their opinion about something. If you feel like a conversation is flagging say, “This has been so interesting so far, but I really, I’d like to know a little bit more. I’d like to get your opinion.” The other thing is when they’re in the middle of their story if you just keep say frankly, “And then what happened?” Or the other, my favorite is, “Can you tell me more about that?” You know people will follow that lead. It’s a fascinating thing to do.

What I hear more often than that though is that people will say, “Oh my God. This morning I was having such a nervous breakdown about,” blah, blah, blah. The person listening would go, “Oh me too. I was having the worst morning.” Okay, well this is not a conversation. So, “Wow, can you tell me more about that and then what happened? What did that look like?” and all those kind of things. Just lead them on a little bit and really try to get into some of the nitty gritty will be more interesting for you.

Brett McKay: Any other ways? I think that’s a great one. Let’s say, how do you interject besides asking what’s your opinion? Let’s say you want to bring up a new topic. What’s a good way of transitioning to a new topic?

Frances Jones: Well I think that you want to pick a topic that hopefully again is as interesting to them as it is to you. I mean I understand it’s always way more fun to talk about ourselves. I get that, but it doesn’t make for a great conversation. I think that it is one of those moments that you can say, “Tell me a little bit about what you do in your free time, because here’s some of the things I like to do, but I’d love to learn more about … You look like you’re very fit. You obviously work” whatever that might be. It’s really again taking clues from where you are, how you know them, who introduced the two of you. That’s how I said when people are introducing, you know we are being introduced to someone, or you meet people at a party, so how do you know the host? I promise you they will go on for half an hour about the very first time they met.

Brett McKay: Yeah, I know and I love the question like what do you do in your free time because typically the go to thing that I go to is like so what do you do and by that I mean like what do you do for a living and it’s kind of boring. I think a lot of people when they’re at a party they’re like okay, the last thing I want to talk about is work, but I love that question. What do you do in your free time? It’s a great one. Very cool.

All right so there’s some ways to keep the conversation going is ask their opinion on something and then keep asking and then what, and then what, and then ask them questions about how they might know the host or what they do in their free time.

Frances Jones: Right and I think just another note about introducing people to each other because I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but very often I’ll know someone who is introducing me to someone else and they’ll say, “Oh my God Frances, this is Brett. You’re going to love him.” All right.

Brett McKay: No, I don’t love Brett.

Frances Jones: Where do you go with that? I’m sure I will love you, but don’t … That’s tough because it sets the two people up.

Brett McKay: A lot of pressure.

Frances Jones: For nothing. Again I think it’s always really helpful if you’re introducing people to each other to say, “This is so and so, this is so and so. This is why I think the two of you are going to have a great time talking.”

Brett McKay: So what do you do when you’re in a conversation with someone and you put out a thought, a fact, or a conversation starter that goes over like a lead balloon? I think we’ve all had that happen. We throw something out there and they’re just sort of like, man it’s like the uncomfortable silence. What do you do in those situations?

Frances Jones: I think the most important thing is to keep a sense of humor about it because what you don’t want to do is end up (a) killing the conversation and then (b) making other people do the cleanup for you. I think it’s one of these moments that you can say, “Ah, you know what? I guess that wasn’t really as interesting as I thought it was going to be.” Which is very different than saying, “Well I guess I’m the only one who finds that interesting.”

Brett McKay: Right, right.

Frances Jones: Then you’ve alienated everybody. Or you can say, “Wow, now that I’ve heard that out loud it’s really not as funny as it was when it was inside my brain.” again which is just a lighthearted way of letting everybody off the hook.

Brett McKay: Go you, so use some self deprecating humor.

Frances Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brett McKay: Have some humility. Okay, so going back to job interviews one listener asked how can people cope with anxiety in job interviews?

Frances Jones: One of the things and it sound incredibly pedantic, but one of the things I want everybody to do is to pick three small talk topics before an interview because I mean they’re hard. We prepare, I hope we prepare. Please prepare for the hard questions, but we don’t prepare for is that space of time while you’re walking down the hall with somebody or wow, we’ve just had a great interview and you’re standing by the elevator waiting. You pick a topic out of thin air and the whole thing blows up in your face. I really want you to have three small talk topics in your back pocket before any kind of interview. They can be as small as are there any restaurants nearby that you would recommend? You know, that kind of thing.

Brett McKay: Right you want to stay away from things like politics probably.

Frances Jones: Yeah, and don’t … If they’ve hung their diploma on the wall of their office, by all means feel free to comment on that, but I don’t recommend getting anywhere near family photos or anything because people don’t tend to update those as frequently and/or they might have had a terrible fight with their spouse that morning or with their kid. Then they tell you the entire story and then they’re horrified afterward that they over-shared.

Brett McKay: Okay.

Frances Jones: Yeah, stay away from the family photos.

Brett McKay: Stay away from the family but sort of key in on pleasantries, restaurant, food, sports, maybe movies.

Frances Jones: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Brett McKay: Okay.

Frances Jones: All those kinds of things.

Brett McKay: Three things there okay, that will help with the anxiety. I mean anything else beside that? I mean is there anything right before you go into the interview, is there any sort of I don’t know, mindset things you can do to help prepare yourself, kind of take off the edge?

Frances Jones: I think that there’s … I want you to have done an obscene amount of research ahead of time, not in a creepy way, not like, “Wow, I was looking at the pictures of you in 7th grade.” That’s going to depress everybody and make you seem like a stalker, but to say, “You went to X school. That is incredibly impressive. I saw that.” Or, “Wow, I saw that your company does this philanthropic outreach and I was so impressed by that.” Again, it’s really letting them know that you have done more than prepare to talk about yourself. It’s demonstrating that you’re prepared to talk about them.

Brett McKay: A lot of the part of a job interview is not so much to suss out your qualifications. They usually do that through the resume. They can see your GPA, your curriculum vitae. They just want to know are they going to get along with you.

Frances Jones: They do.

Brett McKay: They’re going to spend, you spend most of your time with the people you work with. I mean you probably spend more time with them than your family so you want to make sure-

Frances Jones:   That’s one of those … For those of you, I don’t know if anybody’s read the Tina Fey book, “Bossypants” but one of the things when she was talking about being the head writer at “Saturday Night Live” one of the things they talked about is, is there somebody that I want to see in the break room at 3:00 in the morning because we’re going there together.

Brett McKay: Right, so yeah it’s not if you’re going get along. I remember I was reading this book by this one guy. He was interviewing for a job at a high-end investment firm and there were a ton of other qualified people. He was hyper competitive, but he happened to see that the interviewing manager or executive had a Washington Redskins trashcan in his office and he just says, “Oh you’re a Redskins fan.” The entire interview was about the Washington Redskins and how they’ve done poorly and they’re hoping this season will turn it around. He ended up getting the job beating out these other more qualified individuals and it came down to I think the guy just he liked me better.

Frances Jones: Right and what’s so great about the way that he phrased that is I see that you’re a Washington Redskins fan because sometimes say but I don’t care about sports so how am I going to be able? No, well again I’m going to go back to nobody cares about what you care about. People care about what they care about. Demonstrating that you’re paying attention is honestly really most of the time all that anybody needs to find you charismatic.

Brett McKay: Right, I remember when I was in law school I had this interview for a summer internship in a big firm here in downtown Tulsa and the guy saw that I speak Spanish fluently and we just had a conversation in Spanish. That was it, just about where we were from. Where did you learn Spanish? I ended up getting the job, but we didn’t talk about the law at all because I think he saw that I was qualified. I had the grades, whatever, but he just wanted to see can I get along with this guy? Can I have fun with him?

Frances Jones: Yeah, again is this someone I want to see at 2:00 in the morning?

Brett McKay: Right that’s the thing. You’re going in there to see if they want to spend 2:00 in the morning with you. Another common theme and this is the last one we’ll hit for today, but just people dealing with perceived, with insecurities about maybe a physical insecurity they might have or perhaps just their background insecurity they might have and how to deal with these. One question was how can someone cope with a stutter?

Frances Jones: Yes, that was a question that I got and it’s so interesting that I have a very close friend who is an author and he has a stutter and yet he does book readings all the time. One of the ways that he handles it that I think is so graceful is before he starts to read he just says, “As you can hear, I have a stutter. I’ve had it since I was a child. I just want you to know that it resolves itself so if you wait patiently everything will move along.” It’s just about he brings it up and he lets them know how they can participate in making things comfortable. It’s beautifully done and at the end of the day again, everything they might have around it just falls away because he’s just handled it.

That to me is the most graceful thing that I’ve seen anybody do. It comes back to one of the things I talk about a lot is if you can’t fix it, feature it. You know, bring it up. Don’t pretend it’s not happening. It’s happening so let me talk about it.

Brett McKay: Yeah good, that’s great. Don’t try to hide the elephant in the room basically and that can go with any other type of perceived insecurity that’s obvious to other people and just putting people at ease just say, okay here’s this thing. There it is and that’s that and move on.

Frances Jones: Right. They’ll be comfortable with it.

Brett McKay: Right, right. Another perceived physical problem or insecurity that people have is what to do about feeling too tall and I guess the corollary to this would be what to do if you feel like you’re too short.

Frances Jones: Yes, so I think you know the one of the too tall is just some people struggle with this and I think it’s just a matter of if you feel like you’re looming, just take a half step back or just to give people particularly if you’re a larger man, to give women a little more personal space only because we are, like we’re smaller. It can feel a little bit threatening so just that half step back or to lean forward, to lean in, to shake your hand. Then you can overcome being quite tall.

That said, there’s a school of thought. I find tallness incredibly reassuring and attractive. I think that I didn’t know in this instance if this was just something this gentleman was bringing to the party or if he had actually had people comment on how tall he was. It is a two way street of I need you to be comfortable with it and if you sense others aren’t, just mention what’s happening. Wow, I feel like I’m really looming over the gathering.

Brett McKay: So yeah, if you show that you’re comfortable with it, other people are going to be comfortable with it as well.

Frances Jones: Yes.

Brett McKay: What about like if you feel like you’re too short?

Frances Jones: Again, I think it’s one of these moments where you need to look at what you’re bringing into the room because it’s possible that no one else is thinking about your height. If you walk in with all of that stuff and then there’s a reason why they call it the Napoleon Complex, if then now again everyone is having to make you feel comfortable that’s not fun for them. It’s a matter of doing the work yourself. Okay, I recognize that often I feel like I’m far shorter than everybody else. Again for women you just put on some higher heels. For men it’s harder. I think it’s just a matter of working through that, talking to people you know and feel comfortable mentioning it to, about how do I read for you? When you first met me was it the first thing that you thought?

Often other people aren’t as aware of it as you might be and frankly most people aren’t thinking as much about you as you are. It can be really helpful to say to people was it one of the first things you thought about with me?

Brett McKay: Right, so yeah often times people aren’t even thinking about the thing that you think they’re thinking about. We’re our own worst enemies. Going back to that idea about it’s hard for men if you’re shorter and kind of altering your appearance. Women can put on high heels. There’s a great website that I’d recommend people go check out. It’s called the Modest Man written by this guy named Brock. He has style tips and advice for shorter men out there. It’s all about dressing the way that it makes you appear taller and also just has a lot of great advice on dealing with some of those insecurities that shorter men might have.

Frances Jones: What a great resource.

Brett McKay: Yeah, it’s called The Modest Man. Go check that out if that’s an insecurity or perceived problem that you have. The other, I thought this was kind of funny, the question because I’m sure this has happened. I’ve seen it happen in school, like the first day of school when the teacher is going through the roll. One of questions was how can I put people at ease with my unpronounceable last name?

Frances Jones: Right I think again it’s one of these moments where if you demonstrate that you’re aware that your last name is kind of kooky you’re going to put them at ease. It really depends on the people that you’re with. If it’s kind of a fun loving group and you want to say my last name is blah, blah, blah and maybe we can all say it together. That can work, but if these are people that like to feel smart or superior to you, then they’re not going to go for that one. I think in those moments what I recommend is I know my last name is a bear to pronounce and it’s pronounced, say your name, and then say the origin of it is X. What you’ve done here is you’ve made them feel comfortable because you’ve told them how to pronounce your last name and by telling them the origin you’ve made them feel smarter. Now they can go out into the world and they can either inform or reprimand depending on their personality other people who don’t know how to pronounce it.

Brett McKay: In the process you’ve been charismatic because you made the person feel better about themselves which is the thing about charisma. Okay, well that’s some great advice there. Well Frances, these are the big themes we hit today, some of the questions we got, but where can people go and ask more questions so we can do this again sometime?

Frances Jones: My website is my name and Frances is with an “e” not an “i”. There is when you get there an ask a question button. As I mentioned, all the questions roll to my phone so please feel free to ask me about anything and everything. I am happy to handle work things. Work things is really my real house so anything that’s going on with your boss or with your co-workers and job interviews. I love a good job interview question. Just the day to day encounter can be fun.

Brett McKay: Great, well Frances Cole Jones thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Frances Jones: Thank you.

Brett McKay: My guest today was Frances Cole Jones. She’s the author of the book, “How to Wow”. You’ll find that on Also check out her website and go to her ask a question tab where you can send her a question that goes right to her iPhone. Ask her anything about personal, you know just your personal and professional presentation whether you have a job interview question, whether you have a question about small talk, or how you should dress for certain situations, ask it to her. Maybe we’ll bring it up in a future episode.

Well that wraps up another edition of The Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out The Art of Manliness website at and if you enjoyed this podcast, I’d appreciate it if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher as that helps spread the word about the show. As always I appreciate your continued support and until next time this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.

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