This past March, I had the incredible opportunity to give a TEDx talk on a topic near and dear to my heart: why the word YES is holding you back.
At the TEDx speaker’s dinner, the host asked each of us speakers to introduce ourselves and share what brought us to the event. There were several reasons that I was there but at the heart of it, I got the chance to get up on the TEDx stage becauseother women put my work forward and lifted me up. And I couldn’t be more grateful.
Many thanks to Erin Tselnchuck, Co-Founder and President of RISEQUITY, for nominating me and championing the work that is central to this talk. Organizers Anisya Fritz and Marilyn Nagel:your support made this talk as bold as it was. Thanks also to Nathan Gold for helping me prepare- I’m usually the one doing the coaching and being on the other side of that experience was priceless.
Behind the Scenes of TEDx:
Below is the long and formatted version of the TEDx talk, arranged as a script.
The ALL CAPS are to guide me in emphasis, the bolding is to anchor my ‘what's next,’ and the ellipses and line breaks are for pacing.
You can even see the performance notes I made for myself, as I move through the script.
The final version was a bit shorter and tighter (I had to get it to 10 min!). You can watch it in the link at the bottom of this blog.
Why The Word YES is Holding You Back
For years I co conspired with my clients to leave money and opportunity on the table- I had no idea I was doing it UNTIL…I went to Auctioneering school.
A few years ago…I went to auctioneering school for fun…for an experiment, an adventure.
Me…and 100 cowboys…in a training room in a run-of-the-mill hotel on the side of the highway in the Midwest- learning to sell everything from cattle to real estate to art to 5-dollar box lots you’d find at a garage sale…
"100-dollar bidder, now two, now two, would you give me two?" Something like that.
I turned that funny little adventure into an impact hobby- when I got back home to the Bay Area, I started doing fundraising auctioneering for women-led nonprofits and nonprofits that benefit women and girls- it's my jam.
A few dozen fundraisers later, my two worlds came crashing together. Communications and Auctioneering…and I saw now how I’d been helping my clients lowball themselves and undermine the power of the asks they were making- in business, their careers and in life.
Here’s how I saw it…
Clients come to me when they need help speaking powerfully at really critical moments…we have to know where they're going with their pitch or story so, we always start with a question: “What…do you want? What are you asking for?
And it’s usually things like, you know- headcount, investment, engagement, budget etcetera. In my skills workshops people make it personal- and say things like “a raise, or a promotion, or a chance to lift their profile or run a big project.”
Once we get the WHAT they’re asking for, I have to know “How much?” HOW MUCH of that thing are you asking for? The size, the amount, the quantifiables.
And THIS is when the hand wringing starts and I’m met with another question: “Well, Dia, what do you think I can get?”
And for years I thought, what a great question! Yes! How much DO you think you can get? And we’d game it out and go for that- landing on a number we thought we’d get a yes to. And when they got that yes it would be high-fives all around…PSSHT! Look at us! Score!
That’s not what we do as auctioneers.
If I open a bid at $100, and one of you puts a paddle in the air, and I say “sold!” What have I done? I’ve left money on the table- never knowing what I “could’ have gotten. How DO I know what’s possible in a negotiation? By focusing on ONE thing- that little and wonderful word “No.”
As auctioneers, we don’t look for a yes, we look for a NO and when we get it- we settle for the number, the price just below that. The NO lets us know we’ve maximized the potential of the ask. No is good news! I can’t sell anything UNTIL I get the no- because that tells me, I've hit the ceiling of what’s possible. No…is not a bad word. (like a secret)
What if we all asked like auctioneers? I know, we’re not all in competitive bidding situations when we make asks in our lives and work, but we do have the opportunity to not craft our asks based on “what do I think I can get?” But instead- what we think will threaten a “No” and then go for that.
But why DON’T we do that? Because everything between a guaranteed yes, and that menacing no, lives in a place I like to call the Zone Of Freaking Out. Or, for short, the ZOFO.
The ZOFO gives us that feeling- that feeling that says things to us like “How dare you? Who do you think you are? You’re going to ruin everything!”
But the ZOFO is where all the potential is! The ZOFO is where we challenge our own assumptions about what’s possible. It’s where we honor ourselves, what we really want and need…and when we’re in it? we get more- and if we get that no and negotiate down?- we KNOW we’ve left no money or opportunity on the table.
So we can actually, re-read that feeling we get when we’re in our own personal ZOFO not as a feeling of trespassing, but as a feeling that you are doing something courageous, standing up for your dreams for yourself and not letting fear of rejection hold hostage the potential of the ask you are about to make.
If the ZOFO is where all the potential is, we need to get… INTO… it. But how? When it can feel so scary and so…ZOFO-ish?
Well, here are THREE of the NINE insights I got from the auctioneering stage that you can use to find the courage to step into your own personal ZOFO.
Here they are:
Number ONE: People are irrational- or if you don’t like that, THEIR rationale for what they’ll say yes or no to, is not YOUR rationale for what you might say yes or no to. I sold a camping trip for 55K…twice…WHAT? and a 10K vase for 45 hundred dollars…what?....Irrational. Their rationale is not your rationale- so don’t decide for them- just get in your ZOFO, aim for a NO and ask and find out.
Number TWO: Price is a measure of value, not worth. That's to say, use what someone else will do or pay, as a way to see what THEY value, not a way to measure your worth or worthiness. Because that is infinite. Value is contextual- a single dollar can mean so much to one person and nothing to another. So get into your ZOFO, and aim for a no and ask and find out.
Number THREE: Be an Agent for your purpose- the 10% raise you’re asking for that’s squarely in your ZOFO, isn’t so you can buy yourself a lambo… the purpose of your ask is put your kid through college, or to afford your first solo apartment where you’re going to launch your new media company, or to add to the kitty for that trip around the world so you can say out loud you lived a life of adventure…or?... maybe it is for that lambo. If you are an agent for the REASON for the ask, and act on its behalf, you can get just enough distance to take that risk. Be an agent for your purpose so you can get into your ZOFO and aim for a no and ask and find out.
As I look back, the most important and transformational asks I’ve made in my life have been ones squarely in my ZOFO. And they’ve been the ones that have changed everything. They've shifted my perspective, altered the trajectory of my career and ignited relationships and partnerships that turned my life and world technicolor.
One ask I made that changed everything, was a simple one. It wasn’t about money- it was about someone’s time, attention and investment in me. It was simple and direct and at its essence was this question:
“Will you teach me?”
My hands were shaking when I made it- I was sure they’d say no, but they said yes. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to New York.
In that shaky-hands moment, I challenged what I thought was possible and refused to lowball myself- refused to be tempted by that nasty word “yes” that begs me to keep my ask “reasonable” small and limited to only what’s guaranteed. Turns out, I was unknowingly asking like an auctioneer and being an agent for my purpose.
And now that I have this framework and set of insights to help me step into my ZOFO, its so fun!
It can be fun to see what’s possible when you go for no. It can reveal all kinds of surprises. Just this year, I sent a proposal to a client. Nudged by my team to go for a no, I sent the request. I didn't even hold my breath because I was sure I'd get a no. But, boom! I got a yes and this time- instead of high fives all around, we had a collective “Craaaap!...They said yes!” Why? Because that yes meant we’d left something on the table. I was SHOCKED because the yes I got was way more than the yes I would have designed for.
Go for no, and get more of what you need, every time. And yes, sometimes you’ll get a no and that’ll be that. You’ll be ok- because you’ll always have other bidders.
I don’t co-conspire with my clients to leave money and opportunity on the table any more- instead we Ask like an Auctioneer, step into the ZOFO and go for the NO, and make the kinds of asks that can change everything.
Making a strategic and meaningful ask of your own? Set yourself up for success and get the book, Ask Like an Auctioneer: