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Ben Decker and Kelly Decker
are the leading experts in the field of business communication. They consult on messaging, cultivate executive presence among the leadership of Fortune 500 companies and startups alike, and regularly deliver keynotes to large audiences. Together, they run Decker Communications, a global firm that trains and coaches tens of thousands of executives a year. Ben and Kelly live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where they constantly test and refine communication techniques with their most demanding audience, their three boys.
"The gold standard for communication training programs."
- USA Today
Meet The Deckers
Q & A
What's your favorite White Lie?
Ben: My favorite White Lie is, "When I'm on, I'm good." When people get "lights-camera-action" on stage, they turn into someone else. You want to say: Is this really you? It tends to not be. Pulling the real person out is one of the most satisfying things that we get to do.
Kelly: My favorite White Lie is, "If I say the words, people are going to get it." Until clients see themselves on video, they have no idea how they come across. The message is totally and completely lost, mostly because they don't connect with their audiences.
Tell us about your personal communications struggles.
Kelly: I come from this large Italian family that really knows how to gesture. They're only able to understand you if you're using you're hands quite frequently. So just resting my hands, occasionally, and then using them when they're really going to make more of an impact, is something I've had to learn.
Ben: I fall into a lot of different traps, usually something with my hands or a new filler that pops up. Most recently the word was "truly." I have to remind myself: "keep it light" - because it's so important to have lightness in your face, when it's appropriate.
What's it like to write a book together as a couple?
Kelly: We've been running the company together for 10 years and we've been phenomenally lucky that this actually works. Writing a book together… that's a different story.
Ben: Although we think alike, we work differently. This made us work in a similar style; that's what created the challenge.
Kelly: Our boundaries started blurring. Our quarters got a little closer. It was more of a challenge rather than being at the office, where we can be in our own space, having completely different experiences during the day.
What are the rituals you do before preparing to speak before a large group??
Ben: I constantly think of who I'm talking to. I spend the night, the flight, the hour before, just thinking about what they're going through. It helps me speak their language, think of their environment, even use their acronyms. I'm constantly thinking about my listeners.
Kelly: I think about moments where people might tune out and how I can get them tuned back in. Is there something I need to do from a behavioral perspective? Or do I need to think about content and some stories or examples? Anything to make it more relevant to them and have the message hit home.
What's your ideal pre-speech meal?
Kelly: My favorite pre-speech meal is coffee, actually, to get enough caffeine in my system. I operate on pure adrenaline in that case. I think both of us do that.
Ben: But after I'm done…let's talk about that because I'm ready to eat when it's done!
How do you decompress? How do you shift gears?
Kelly: Especially if it's a beautiful day, I'll go out on a great run, which I love. They're not long. But they help me get my mind right so I can go home and be a great mom and give patience and a listening ear to our kids.
Ben: So hopefully she takes it well when I say, "I think you should go for a run."
Are you competitive?
Kelly: We're very competitive. What we've learned over the course of our relationship is that we always need to be on the same team. So, if there's a big family reunion and everyone is playing Scrabble or Monopoly, we have to be paired together. If we're not, we're competitive against each other and that not good for anyone.
Ben: Pictionary… that can lead into some good fights.
Where do you find inspiration?
Kelly: Our clients inspire me. People make such incredible changes. Once they see themselves on video, they see how they're coming across. They are taking a big risk … totally shifting and changing what they've always done. It's an incredible thing to be able to watch.
Ben: When you run a company, you can get bogged down by the numbers or the strategy. I find myself saying, "I've got to get out. I've got to work with clients." When you see the change, it's so gratifying. It's not easy work for clients to do. It takes courage and risk-taking to do something that's uncomfortable, that's out of the box for them. But when they do it, they see the result of influencing others. That's inspiring to me.
What was your earliest exposure to communication training?
Ben: My father, Bert Decker, started Decker Communications, and I grew up around it. I wish I could show you the picture showing "effective," "communications" "is"… with me, my brother and my sister for a Christmas card. Communications has always been a big part of our lives. I was on video at an early age, seeing myself, seeing how I came across. I never thought I'd get involved with it. It wasn't until 15-20 years after college that I thought, "I am interested in this." So Bert and I re-launched the company in 2004, and it's one of the best decisions I ever made.
Kelly: We're also subjecting our boys to the same horrors that Ben went through. We record their book reports, presentations at school, and they're mortified. But it's great! They're learning a lot.
Why are you excited about this book?
Ben: Most of our work is done one-on-one. It's very experiential and it's hard to scale. The book allows more people to learn these principles, apply them, and transform business communications and their organizations. We took all of these best practices and put it into what's an invaluable manual.
Kelly: We don't want to sound trite…but communication has an impact on all kinds of amazing, incredible things that people are doing to change the world. There are incredible initiatives - whether it's in their schools, or their communities or in their companies - and we see them every day with our clients.
Ben: It's what we get to share one-on-one when we're working it with someone … that's what's so exciting about this book.
Kelly: Being able to share this book more broadly is powerful and exciting. People can actually walk away with something.