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SPI 576: How to Light the Path for Your Audience with Michael Gerharz

This episode is another in our Teaching Friday series, where we bring in members of our SPI Pro community to teach us about a topic in their area of genius!

Today, Michael Gerharz of Leaders Light the Path shares why it’s so important to “light the path” for your audience, so you’re not trying to persuade harder, but instead resonating stronger. He shares the three steps you need to take to do that: getting clarity about what you want to be known for, answering the three questions any audience wants answered, and understanding why anyone would want to follow you along the path you’ve lit for them.

It’s deceptively simple, and Michael lays it out masterfully in this episode. Hope you love it!

Today’s Guest

Michael Gerharz

Michael coaches leaders to get the impact and influence they deserve. What he does is simple: he asks questions, he listens, and he makes you separate the signal from the noise. That’s it. Yet, time and again, this turns out to be transformative to the way people speak, act, and lead.

Leaders Light the Path Podcast





Pat Flynn: Hey, hey, it’s Pat here. You’re about to listen to something a little different on the show today. It’s not our usual Friday format where I follow up on Wednesday’s episode. Don’t worry, those aren’t going away forever. Just a little break to bring in something even more special in my opinion. And this episode, and the next few are a part of our teaching Friday series, which we do with our SPI Pro members. We have an incredibly talented pool of people within SPI Pro so we thought, why not give our pros the spotlight and teach you here on the podcast every once in a while. It’s just one of the perks of being a part of Pro in fact is this possibility. With each episode, you get to hear a different pro teach you something special from their area of expertise. Without further ado, I’ll let them take it away. Oh, and if you want to find out more about SPI Pro and be a part of it, you can go ahead and apply at

Speaker 2: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now so you can sit back and reap the benefits later.

Speaker 3: And now your guest host. As a side hustle, he runs a toy licensing business with his wife, Michael Gerharz.

Michael Gerharz: Every change starts with someone who sees a better future. Today, I hope that that someone is you because I’d love to show you a way to make us see what you see. I’m Dr. Michael Gerharz from Cologne in Germany, and I help leaders crack the clarity code so that they can get the impact and influence they deserve. I write a daily blog on the art of communicating and publish the Leaders Light the Path Podcast. As a former computer scientist with a PhD in mobile communications, who almost would’ve become a professional guitarist, I work at the intersection of highly structured thinking and the pure joy for creative expression. My mantra is, don’t persuade harder, resonate stronger. You can find me at That’s G-E-R-H-A-R-Z, one word, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn or other social media.

Michael Gerharz: Let’s get started, shall we? Traditionally, marketing is about getting your audience to do something. For example, to buy your product, vote for your project, agree to the deal or whatever it is in your case. Marketers use all sorts of subtle techniques to gently or sometimes not so gently push or pull their audience in the direction they want them to go, such as honey traps or scarcity campaigns. Lighting the path is different. Rather than to push or pull your audience, it trusts them with a decision to follow you. Because it turns out that people above the age of one prefer not to be pushed or pulled, but to walk on their own. And you know what? They are so much more loyal when they finally do. Lighting the path is about getting the audience to see something. When what they see is clearly for them because it solves a struggle that they have or helps them achieve something that they strive for, then they are almost guaranteed to follow you along your path. They are almost guaranteed to take action.

Michael Gerharz: The main ingredient is empathy. It’s only going to work if you start from work that actually makes a difference in your audience’s lives. You got to see them first in order for them to see you. In this episode, we’re going to look at some key ingredients to help you do that and light the path for your audience. The first step is to get clarity about what you want to be known for. Let’s look at an example. How do you scale a magazine from zero readers to becoming Europe’s best selling magazine? You need great writing that resonates and gets passed along. Interestingly, this list actually starts at the end at what gets passed along. At least that’s how Henri Nannen, founder of the German Stern magazine and its editor-in-chief for more than 30 years, led the magazine to actually become Europe’s best selling magazine in the 70s.

Michael Gerharz: He demanded from his editors to start their writing at what gets passed along. Unless an editor could clearly state what a reader was supposed to tell a friend after reading an article, they were not allowed to write the article. Clarity about the destination came first, then came the writing. Nannen explained the rule by an anecdote about his grandparents. Suppose grandpa and grandma are going for a walk. Along their way, they buy the newest edition of our magazine. Now, when they come home, they do what they always do. Grandma walks into the kitchen to prepare lunch while grandpa sits down in the living room to read our magazine. Suddenly, after reading one of the articles, he closes the magazine to shout into the kitchen “Grandma, they’re going to raise taxes again.” It’s the one sentence that felt so important to him that it created the urge to shout it into the kitchen.

Michael Gerharz: It’s the same phrase that he’s going to tell his friends when he meets them in the evening. When we don’t decide what that phrase will be, grandpa’s just going to decide for himself. There are two takeaways here. First of all, any audience will always have a pass-along phrase when someone asks them about the story they just heard or read from you. Whether it’s your team after the meeting, whether it’s your customer after the sales pitch or whether it’s your followers after you’ve told them about that new course you’re about to launch. All of them will have a pass along phrase. Ideally, it’s exactly your core message. But if you didn’t craft your story with empathy for what actually matters to them, it could be something completely different, even something crushing like, “whoa, that was totally confusing.” Once again, any audience will always have a pass along phrase, whether we like it or not. But here’s the actual problem.

Michael Gerharz: They’re not going to ask us for support when passing our message along. They will just use what they took away from our story. That’s the second important takeaway. A pass along phrase is always from the audience’s perspective. In other words, if you can’t clearly articulate what you want them to see, how can they know? If you don’t know where to lead your audience, then how can they know? And more importantly, how can you find a way to bring them there? Lighting the path starts with a clear vision for the destination. I call that the pass along phrase. But of course, we are not going to convince any audience by asking them just to pass that one phrase along. We’re going to have to tell them a story and give them the details. Let’s say in our podcast or on our landing page or in our newsletter.

Michael Gerharz: And that brings us to the second important step to lighting the path. You need to answer the three questions any audience wants answered, no matter if it’s a movie or a great book, a speech or a meeting, a newsletter or an Instagram post, any audience will always want these three questions answered. Let’s look at them one at a time. The first question is, oh, really? Can I believe this? Can this possibly be true? Five new clients without doing anything? No way. Here’s the thing. If I won’t believe you, you’re wasting your time in trying to make me see your offer. Refrain from using hyperbole and exaggeration. It’s even unnecessary. If we do work that matters because we care deeply, then all we need to do is to tell a true story about it. We don’t need to decorate our diamonds. We need to polish them.

Michael Gerharz: And yet, even if our message is highly credible and we created the trust that this is going to be a great offer, our efforts will be worthless if we don’t answer the second question. The second question is, huh? What do you even mean? Because remember, the audience is always right. If they didn’t get it, they didn’t get it. End of story. There really is no point in arguing that we mentioned it on page three or that we meant that slightly differently. They didn’t get it. It follows immediately that it’s our job as communicators to do the hard work of focus and clarity. If we don’t focus, we’re basically delegating that task to our audience. If we don’t speak with clarity, we’re basically asking our audience to figure it out for us and they might not be too eager to take the task. And even if they do, we might not be too happy with their choice. So keep asking yourself, can I make my story even clearer or shorter, maybe more relatable or more delightful?

Michael Gerharz: And yet, even if our message is highly credible and super clear, our efforts will still be worthless if we don’t answer the third question. The third question is, so what? Why are you telling that to me? Why are you telling it to me and right now? The thing is, if they don’t care, they won’t listen. In other words, if we think they should care, it’s our obligation to make it obvious to them why, which means stop speaking so much about yourself and start speaking about what matters to them. Let’s look at an example. No one cares about MP3 players with three gigabytes storage, although that’s a credible and rather clear message if your product offers that capacity. What people rather cared about when the iPod was introduced was to carry their music library with them. This is why Apple translated that message into “a thousand songs in your pocket.”

Michael Gerharz: Basically your whole music library back when the iPod put was introduced all in your pocket. Now we are talking relevance. We must walk in their shoes. We must do the hard work of translating it into their domain. Let’s put it like this. Rather than to speak so they get us, rather than have them figure out what we mean, it’s a lot more useful to get them and speak about it in their language what matters to them. Ultimately the goal is to have our audience think, “that’s me. This is exactly what I struggle with. This is exactly the solution I need. Why haven’t you told me last year?” So that was the third question that any audience wants answered. Let’s summarize. When you want to light the path for your audience, you need to give three answers with your story. It needs to be credible. It needs to be super clear. And it needs to be highly relevant.

Michael Gerharz: Okay. Now that we have a clear understanding of what we want to be known for, and we also have a clear understanding of the three questions that our audience wants answered, let’s look at why anyone would even want to follow us along the path that we made them see. JP Morgan, the founder of the bank, gave us a great hint how to find out. It’s a profound observation that captures really well what today has been confirmed by many psychological studies more than a century after he said it. JP Morgan said that a man always has two reasons for doing anything, a good reason and the real reason. Now here’s the problem. Most communicators focus solely on the good reasons, but the good reasons are never the problem. If we do work that matters, we’re always going to have enough good reasons to persuade anyone, if they want to be persuaded that is, which is precisely the problem.

Michael Gerharz: Here’s a fascinating experiment that two Swedish scientists conducted in a supermarket. They asked shoppers whether they wanted to participate in a market survey. Two flavors of jam were presented to them and the shoppers had to decide which one tasted better. After they tasted their favorite flavor for a second time, they were asked why they liked it better. Here’s the catch. In the meantime, the two flavors had been exchanged with a sleight of hand so that they in fact tasted the less favored jam a second time without them noticing it. The surprising outcome was that more than half of the participants didn’t actually notice and still they found reasons why they liked that flavor better. Rather unbelievable given that these were quite distinct tastes such as raspberry and blackberry. And yet it’s true. This phenomenon is called choice blindness and the experiment was repeated over and over again in different contexts.

Michael Gerharz: Men were asked to choose among two images of women and then had to reason why they liked this one better. Shoppers had to reason why they preferred this laptop configuration over another and so on and so forth. It was always the same outcome. Choice blindness is the phenomenon that once we’ve chosen something, we find good reasons for why that was a good choice. It turns out that as humans we are pretty great at finding reasons for the things we do rather than doing the things that we find good reasons for. That’s what choice blindness is about. It’s the phenomenon that once we have decided upon something, we tend to look for and also find good reasons for why this was a good decision no matter how we came to that decision. In other words, once we have a real reason, no matter where it came from, we tend to hear any good reason in the context of that real reason.

Michael Gerharz: That means that if the real reasons of your audience don’t align to your story, all the good reasons you presented will just be dismissed or never even listened to. Because if our audience can’t relate to it, it doesn’t matter how great our product is and how clear our message is. If they can’t see why it’s for them, then they will just as quickly dismiss it as we have delivered it. Copywriter John Caples said it like this. “If I had a year to create an ad, I’d spend 11 months researching the appeal, and a month or even a week writing the ad.” Once we know the real reason, what Caples called the appeal, the good reasons are all there. Let’s look at an example. Moleskine. Moleskine makes notebooks, rather expensive ones. Last time I checked a Moleskine notebook costs around $19. $19 for a blank notebook with blank pages and a fake leather cover. At my local supermarket, I can get eight similar no name notebooks for that price.

Michael Gerharz: What makes someone pay eight times for a blank notebook? It turns out that Moleskine capture the real reasons of their audience exceptionally well. In every notebook they sell, they include a little booklet. In it, they choose not to speak about any of the good reasons for buying the notebook. Instead, they tell us a story about the history of a legendary notebook. It starts like this. Moleskine is the legendary notebook used by European artists and thinkers for the past two centuries, from van Gogh to Picasso, from Ernest Hemingway to Bruce Chatwin, this trustee pocket size travel companion held sketches, notes, stories, and ideas before they were turned into famous images or pages of beloved books. This story turned the maker of Moleskine a small Milanese company called Moto Imoto into a beloved worldwide brand. What started as a small independent book publisher now is exclusively devoted to making notebooks starting from an initial production of 5,000 copies of these notebooks, they now have signature stores in all major cities of the world and sell millions each year.

Michael Gerharz: But again, why on earth would anyone pay eight times the price for a notebook? Isn’t it just a bundle of blank paper? No, it’s not, not after you’ve heard the story because a Moleskine is not just any notebook, it’s the same kind of notebook that creative geniuses like Picasso or Ernest Hemingway used to scribble down their ideas. And just think about what became of them. Could the same become of you? What Moleskine has achieved with this story is that this is not just any notebook anymore, it’s a notebook for creative people. And if you are creative, then you obviously need a notebook for creative people. It’s what all the great creatives used. Creatives can’t just buy any notebook from the supermarket. They must buy a notebook for creative people.

Michael Gerharz: This is a real masterpiece in communication that achieves two things. First, they don’t change what I want. They don’t make me want a more expensive notebook. They make me see that I’m a creative and so essentially I don’t even have a choice. I can only buy their notebook because that’s what creatives do. They use notebooks for creatives. Second, essentially they bring the future into the present. They make me visualize myself becoming even more creative by using this product. I only need to write my scribbles into a Moleskine and soon I’ll be becoming even more creative, and who knows, even famous. This notebook makes me feel more creative. This is the ultimate goal of lighting the path, to light a path into a brighter future. By bringing that future into the present, we make it obvious for our audience where to go next. If this is who they want to become, then ours is the path they need to take.

Michael Gerharz: If this is what they want, then our offer is what they need. Okay. Let’s wrap things up. Lighting the path is the art of making our audience see what we see. It’s built on empathy, honesty and trust. When we do work that matters, work that has the potential to make a positive impact, then all we need to do is to tell a true story about it, a true story in plain English. This kind of communication favors those who deeply care for what matters to their audience. By starting with empathy, these leaders manage to create relevant products and messages that resonate strongly with their audience. They work ruthlessly to speak with clarity so that the path becomes obvious. They make their audience see what they see and lead them to the point of no return, the point where they can’t unsee anymore what you made them see, something that’s unmistakably for them, that solves a struggle that actually matters to them, a path that’s in their best interest to follow you along.

Michael Gerharz: Of course, they will want to follow you along that path. I’m excited to see what path you will light us. If you want to dig deeper, you can download the free Leaders Light the Path Manifesto at That’s one word, no dots, no dashes, I also invite you to check out my podcast called Leaders Light the Path, which is available on all major platforms. It’s really short, two minutes, twice a week, with short insights into the art of communicating. Also, feel free to connect with me on social media. I’m Dr. Michael Gerharz, that’s G-E-R-H-A-R-Z. Michael Gerharz. Keep lighting the path.

Pat Flynn: Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at I’m your host, Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Garland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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