Words: Your Most Powerful Weapon by Evy Poumpouras (Transcript)

Evy Poumpouras

This is the full transcript of former Secret Service Special Agent Evy Poumpouras’ TEDx Talk: Words: Your Most Powerful Weapon at TEDxStLouisWomen conference. This event occurred on May 28, 2015.



“Make people feel special. Listen to people. Be present. Nobody matters more than that person across from you.”



Evy Poumpouras – former Secret Service Special Agent

I’m often asked by people, you know, how can I read people? How can I know if somebody’s lying to me? How do I elicit information from people?

And I’m asked this, because in my previous profession, prior to working in the media, I conducted a lot of interviews.

I spent hundreds of hours in the interview room as a special agent. I interviewed people that had committed some very horrible crimes.

I interviewed people who wanted to work for the government. I interviewed people who wanted to harm our country.

I interviewed people from all walks of life.

And over the years, I learned — rather I discovered that there were some basic principles, recurring things that I was seeing when I was speaking with people and trying to elicit information.

Because that’s all I needed to do. I was trying to get information out of people. And at the end of the day, it all came down to communication.

When people ask me: how do I get people to tell me, you know, what I want to know? How do I read people?

They think I’m just going to pop out this checklist and be like just follow steps one through seven, you’ll get what you want. And it doesn’t work like that.

Yes, there is a science when it comes to communication. But communication is more of an art form than anything else. Communication is what gets you to where it is you want to go, whatever that is.

I want to share those basic principles with you here today. But most importantly, your words are what matter.

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We live in the world where we speak words and we don’t really even think about we’re saying. We say things just to say them; we tweet what we want. We email what we want. But we don’t understand the impact of our words.

Prior to being a special agent, I went through the New York City Police Academy. I was a cadet. And when you’re in the New York City Police Academy, there’s a class you have to take; it’s called Police Science.

And during one of my lectures, my lecturer — my instructor was Sergeant Corrigan. Sergeant Corrigan got up there in front of the class and he said, “If you all go through your entire career and you never have to use your weapon, well then by my account, you’ve had a great career, because, he said, this is your most powerful weapon. This is how you get people to give you what you want. This is how you get people to comply, not this; this.”

Listen, the fundamental principle in having communication is listening, and I have to tell you we don’t listen.

And when I say listen, I mean be an active listener. Half the time when you’re speaking with someone, you’re not even absorbing — we’re not absorbing what they’re saying. We’re thinking what am I going to say in response.

We’re thinking about what — when is it my turn to speak. We don’t even let them finish sometimes. And I do that on occasion. Sometimes they do to my husband and he’ll say to me you know for someone who’s a great interviewer you kind of suck at this sometimes.

But when I say listening, I mean with more than just your ears. You have to absorb people.


You want to feel people with your mind, with your soul, with your heart; what vibe are they giving you? And this may sound like an awkward thing but it’s not. And you’ve all experienced it.

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You meet somebody; they introduce themselves to you. Within the first five minutes you either like this person a lot. You’re like you know, what I just found my BFF, love this person.

Or within those first few minutes you say to yourself ,you know what, don’t like this person. I want nothing to do with them.

And somebody can ask, you they’ll say well why not, and you won’t be able to articulate it. You’ll say you know what, I just don’t like them. You know what I’m just don’t – something doesn’t feel right. You know what, they’re just off.

We all have that instinct and you know what, we don’t listen to it.

We don’t sit there and think and feel and see. When I would do interviews I would listen to people, all of them. I would never put a table between myself and another person ever. I still don’t. Even now I’m working in the media, when I interview someone, when I talk to someone, my preference is in-person no table between us, because if there’s a table between us, all I can see is what’s going on from here and up.

I want to see all of you. I want to see what every part of your body is doing, because then I can understand you. When I understand you I can begin to communicate.

And listening also means what: you listen and you speak less. We have this myth where we think if we speak more, if we couldn’t control the conversation, we’re in control and it is the exact opposite.

It’s the person who speaks less who’s actually in control, because you’re giving it all up, you’re an open book.

Here you go: what do you want to know about me? And people love to talk. So let them.

Think of it this way – 80:20 rule. You listen 80% of the time, 20% of the time you speak, especially when it’s something that you need from this person, especially when it’s something that you desire that you need to learn, because if you’re talking you’re not learning anything.

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And having patience, when people speak and then silence, a lot of us don’t like silence. Sometimes you speak to people and there’s a moment of silence and we feel like we have to keep talking and talking.

Silence is beautiful because when you’re silent you’re also telling that person I want you to answer my question. But when you keep speaking you don’t allow them.


I love special. I tell everyone make people feel special, and they look at me like, what? Make people feel special?

When you speak to someone and you’re looking to have a communication with someone, you have to make that person feel that they are the most important person that you are dealing with at that moment. Doesn’t mean you do one of these or even glance at your watch? Doesn’t mean you pull out your iPhone and talk to people.

And we’ve all had that done to us and it doesn’t feel so good.

During my previous career, I had the privilege of being around some amazing people to include world leaders and presidents. And often I was assigned to former President Clinton and I would accompany him and supplement his detail.

And I was amazed at how he mastered this. He would walk into a room. It didn’t matter where we were, who he was speaking to. And it didn’t matter what was going on in his life. But he would walk into a room and when he would speak to someone he would make that person feel like there was nobody else in that room but him and that person.

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